An Artistic Reckoning with Cultural Identity

By Gillmor, Alison | Winnipeg Free Press, October 1, 2018 | Go to article overview

An Artistic Reckoning with Cultural Identity


Gillmor, Alison, Winnipeg Free Press


Outpost, a retrospective exhibition currently on view at Urban Shaman, showcases the category-busting work of the Ephemerals, an all-female Indigenous artist collective that uses art, objects and interventions to make points about identity, perception and representation.

With an ironic approach to pop-culture stereotypes and weird consumer artifacts, the Ephemerals ask questions about what happens when markers of Indigenous identity and history are turned into fast fashion items or tourist tchotchkes.

At the Oct. 5 First Fridays’ Art Talk/Art Walk, we will chat with Jenny Western, an art historian, art writer, curator and member of the Ephemerals (along with Jaimie Isaac and Niki Little).

“I got into curating and writing because I love art and when I was younger I liked making it,” Western relates. “But as I got more into curating, I got less into making, and it felt like there were boundaries.

“The Ephemerals opened things up for me,” she says. Since 2010, the trio has been making collaborative multimedia works that span video, photography, performance, installation, design and craft. In a happy coincidence, all three members had babies around the same time, incorporating the experience of motherhood into their practice.

“The personal ended up in the professional,” Western recalls.

“It was kind of hard to avoid,” she points out. “We just brought the babies with us to meetings. We had to work out a system — two moms working and one mom watching three kids, so we felt like we were travelling in time to when women were all working together and the children were just around.

“It sounds very personal — and it is,” Western says. “But I think it also added to the idea of art-making — how we were creating work and presenting it and thinking about it.”

Western’s work as a curator, which includes stints at the Gallery of Southwestern Manitoba and Indigenous curator-in-residence at Plug In ICA, as well as numerous independent projects — also explores issues of Indigenous identity. Western is of European/Oneida/Stockbridge-Munsee descent and is a member of the Brothertown Indian Nation of Wisconsin.

“I’m from a mixed background,” Western says. “Art has really helped me think about my identity and my family’s background.”

“The Mother’s Mother’s Mother exhibition in 2008 [which showed at MAWA in Winnipeg and the Gallery of Southwestern Manitoba in Brandon], was such a great show for me,” Western recalls. “It really spoke to who I was and why I was doing this work. It made me think about my own matrilineal line, which traces back to Indigenous communities in Wisconsin. …

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