Indigenous New York, Critically Speaking

This winter, I was invited back to the Vera List Center to participate in their ongoing program Indigenous New York, this time with a focus on how Indigenous creative production might reconfigure regimes of critical writing. As an invited participant in the event, I was paired with a fellow writer, Sadia Shirazi, and we were asked to respond to the prompt of “land writes—citing territory.” Shirazi and I had not met previous to this, but in approaching this work, we decided to engage each other in conversation, extending the call and response structure of the exercise, first over Skype then in writing, crafting a meditation of enactments of territory that extended from acknowledgements to bans. In a time when so many people have been barred access to the lands called the United States through executive orders, it was a strange decision to go there (and indeed, some other invited participants boycotted the event in response to the recent travel bans). And yet, I hope that there was some utility in going the US and to this event to discuss how the policies enacted on land are equivalent to politicized regimes of dispossession, and to imagine other ways of organizing the shapes we make when we come together. Below, Shirazi and I read from our text at the public portion of the colloquium. Entitled the cuts., our writing owes a debt of gratitude to the brilliant Layli Long Soldier and her book of poetry WHEREAS (2017).

And here, documentation of the panel discussion that followed:

And here, the collection of texts.

Wood Land School

Christmas at Moose Factory


Christmas at Moose Factory (1971), 16mm film transferred to video. Production Agency National Film Board of Canada | Office national du film du Canada.

Today, Alanis Obomsawin’s first film, Christmas at Moose Factory (1971), joins Annie Pootoogook’s Coleman Stove with Robin Hood Flour and Tenderflake (2003-2004) in the space of Wood Land School: Kahatènhston tsi na’tetiátere ne Iotohrkó:wa tánon Iotohrha. Conceived as a single year-long exhibition unfolding through a series of gestures—clusters of activity that bring works into and out of the gallery space—the exhibition is in a constant state of becoming, and today it shifts.

Christmas at Moose Factory brings together children’s crayon drawings and the voice of a girl narrating the images to create a study of life at Christmas time in Moose Factory, a community of mostly Indigenous families on the shore of James Bay. Incidents big and small are illustrated and described with candour, conveying to the viewer a strong sense of being there with the children and their families. As Obomsawin comments in the film, the children “speak with their drawings about life around them” and the resonance between their stories and Pootoogook’s study of domestic rituals makes for a moving illustration of the power of a line to circumscribe living and mark history.

Happenings, Wood Land School

A Statement

Cultural work is not distinct from the political realities that shape civic society.

Statement reads:

Wood Land School offers our sincerest and deepest condolences to the Muslim community of Quebec City, and to those in the province of Quebec, throughout Canada and the United States, and around the world for the hateful act that was carried out at the Centre Culturel Islamique de Québec on 29 January 2017. We feel a deep sense of empathy and love for the families and people affected by this tragedy. Places of prayer should be safe and peaceful sanctuaries for our communities, our loved ones, our children and our families. As Indigenous people, we understand the need for these spaces to exist, and to exist without fear. We are deeply sorry for your loss and commit ourselves to fostering a world where such acts of intolerance are no longer conceivable.

With love and solidarity,
Wood Land School
Duane Linklater, Tanya Lukin Linklater and cheyanne turions, with Walter Scott


I am the Organizer of My Own Archive


© Sara Cwynar, “Soft Film” (2016). Courtesy of Foxy Productions.

Next week I head to Montréal for the opening of I am the Organizer of My Own Archive, a screening program I have curated for Dazibao, a centre dedicated to the dissemination of contemporary image-based practices. Housed within a building on Avenue de Gaspé that has been recently retrofitted from its factory past to a complex of arts spaces, Dazibao’s exhibition spaces include a petite bespoke cinema, which is where the program will be presented, from 02 February–01 April 2017.

In conceptualizing the program, I started with a short animation by the artist Maria Lassnig. Known primarily as a painter, this animation was made in 1992, when Lassnig was 73 years old. A totally vivacious babe, Maria Lassnig Kantate shows Lassnig making sense of her artistic ambition through a reflection on the struggles that produced her career. Although the work is 25 years old, I was struck by the unabated resonance of the misogyny and sexism she describes, of not being taken seriously as an artist because she is a woman, because she is single, because she refuses to play nice. In the face of continual neglect of her talent by the art world, she roots herself in curiosity and perseveres, constructing a narrative of her life where she is a super hero, brave and adventurous. What Lassnig shows me is how self-determination leads to a becoming of self that cannot come into being otherwise.

Gathered around Lassnig’s animation are videos by Stephanie Comilang, Sara Cwynar, Dylan Mira, Krista Belle Stewart and Martine Syms that foreground the recuperative force of articulating experience from a felt position within the social structures that hold our personal lives.

Our memories fool us when they seem to play as movies in our minds. What is left of our living is something more akin to a box of photographs—ruffled through, their order lost or barely held together. What we take for these movies are re-compositions of these still images into narratives, a process of sense making that is self-making too. I am the Organizer of My Own Archive presents a range of tactics for coming into relation with the remnants of personal and social histories, emphasizing the interpretive liberty at play in any project that aims to coax sense from isolated objects or recollected experiences.

The thing about understanding history as photographs, as opposed to movies, is that the order is up for negotiation and relationships can be proposed and constructed, or denied and torn apart. In organizing our archives, we write ourselves as we ought to be.


Indigenous New York, Curatorially Speaking

This past fall I travelled to New York to be part of the Vera List Center’s Indigenous New York, Curatorially Speaking. Organized in two parts—a closed curatorial colloquium followed by a public forum—the event focused on four key inquiries: Indigenous and non-Indigenous epistemologies and methodologies; the non-colonial museum; the challenges of collaborative curation; and the growing Indigenization of international art.

In partnership with Trista Mallory (an instructor for Curatorial Studies at the Whitney Museum’s Independent Study Program), her and I were tasked with facilitating conversations about Indigenous and non-Indigenous epistemologies and methodologies. In presenting a summary of the intimate conversations at the public forum, we decided to share specific strategies that people had used in these kinds of cross-cultural translations. Here are some of the tactics that were shared with us (and presented at the forum with consent):

  • It was repeatedly emphasized that conversations around how to negotiate between Indigenous paradigms of understanding and settler-colonial world views have been going on for hundreds and hundreds of years, long preceding the rhetorics of decolonization or reconciliation that are flourishing today. Complexity and nuance can be built on these sturdy foundations—if we tend to them.
  • Sometimes opacity is deliberate. Not everything need be translated. And perhaps it is useful to feel oneself in a position of not-knowing.
  • The goal of speaking to one another may not be belonging as conceptualized by citizenship or knowing as represented by academia.
  • Listening is a durational practice.
  • It is sometimes useful to build alliances with the people who have the capacity to say “no” to your ideas and propositions, with the goal of getting closer to a future “yes.”
  • There is an interpretive gap between Indigenous epistemologies and settler history that can be broached, in part, through starting any story earlier.

Other speakers included David Garneau, Candice Hopkins, David Joselit, Ruba Katrib, Wanda Nanibush and Elisabeth Sussman, all of them generously and carefully taking up the colloquium’s core concerns. Check out all the brilliant things they had to say, below:


Happenings, SBC, Wood Land School

Wood Land School: Kahatènhston tsi na’tetiátere ne Iotohrkó:wa tánon Iotohrha


Image credit: Wood Land School, Untitled, c-print, 2016.

For the duration of 2017, I will be working with a group of people I deeply respect on a project that promises to totally reconfigure how I understand the cultural work I do and the relationships that function as the support structures for it. On the invitation of Duane Linklater, I will be joining him, Tanya Lukin Linklater and Walter Scott on a new iteration of Duane’s ongoing Wood Land School project, this time anchored in Montréal at SBC Gallery. For the year, SBC’s institutional identity and resources will function wholly in support of the Wood Land School as an experiment with what it means for settler-colonial infrastructures to work in service of Indigenous imperatives. This is one attempt to understand what such a reconfiguration of power, privilege and resources can be, authored from our specific and varying subject positions. Entitled Kahatènhston tsi na’tetiátere ne Iotohrkó: wa tánon Iotohrha (in Mohawk),  Drawing a Line from January to December (in English) and Traçant la ligne de janvier à décembre (in French), this project is rooted in our shared investment in making a world that grapples with how to inherit history, and it dreams wildly free about how else we can be in relation. Conceived as a single year-long exhibition, the project will unfold through a series of, what we are calling, gestures—clusters of activity that bring works into and out of the gallery space—such that the exhibition is in a constant state of becoming, learning from itself and responding to the political urgencies that are sure to emerge over the course of 2017. Amidst so many confederation and civic anniversary celebrations, Wood Land School: Kahatènhston tsi na’tetiátere ne Iotohrkó: wa tánon Iotohrha aims to be a space of critical reflection otherwise.

Tanya, Duane, Walter and I have authored a letter, explaining the project and articulating our goals for the year’s activities, which we anticipate will shift and change as the year’s programming develops. Perhaps we will re-write the letter along the way. As we begin, though, this is where we are:

For the duration of 2017, SBC Gallery of Contemporary Art will be renamed and operate as the Wood Land School. This is the continuation of a conversation, and it is the forging of new relationships. From an initial position of Indigenous self-determination and collectivity, we situate ourselves as impacted upon by forces both nurturing and destructive; we work to be aware of our own participation in dispossession; and we consider our capacity to articulate new ways of being in relation. Structured as a single exhibition unfolding over the course of a year, Wood Land School: Drawing a Line from January to December recognizes the power of line to mark history and invoke memory, proposing a line without beginning or end as a space to collaboratively imagine Indigenous futurity.

Contemporary civic institutions and social structures are built upon systems that have silenced, ignored and destructively classified Indigenous people, ideas and objects. In response to this history, Wood Land School calls upon institutions to give intellectual and physical labour, philosophical and physical space, time, and funds to support Indigenous ideas, objects, discursivity and performance. In Wood Land School’s six-year history, it has come into relation with many kinds of institutions through a framework of treaty, wherein we have accepted and shared in the responsibilities of realizing these many projects. Foregrounding Indigenous history and presence on this land now known as Canada, in a place now known as Montreal, Wood Land School: Drawing a Line from January to December attempts to create a space of critical reflection and re-imagination, where the tenets of treaty—mutual accountability, reciprocity, relation across difference and stewardship of resources—can be enacted.

Wood Land School is an experimental space where Indigenous thought and theory are centred, embodied, mobilized, and take shape as practice through exhibition and pedagogy. Wood Land School does not seek to summarize Indigenous identity, but rather to honour specific, embodied expressions of inheritance and becoming.

The scope of the contexts we operate within and in relation to include the historical, which is akin to theory, and the contemporary, which is akin to practice. Wood Land School aims to be a space for listening, where we can tend to the urgency of current conditions as they unfold—both systemic and material—with an eye to how (and how else) these circumstances can shape our everyday lives. It operates with an awareness that settler colonialism is ever present, enacted in and on Turtle Island in various forms. Wood Land School is the theorization and practice of centering Indigeneity. Our primary relationships are Indigenous to Indigenous, which includes land and non-humans. We also extend our conversations with and to other communities and publics, working in and through a treaty relationship, to re-frame conversations in a way that centres Indigenous agency. The impact of this project will be determined by many viewers over time.

We wonder, how do the relationships between theory, practice and pedagogy manifest across the complexity and diversity of Indigenous identities, and in relation to settler colonial positionings? What does it mean for a settler-colonial institution to unknow its power? What does it mean to memorialize and dream in relation? How to collectively tend to the becoming of the future?

The project launches this Saturday, 21 January 2017, with a single work by Annie Pootoogook and readings by Heather Igloliorte and Wood Land School. Please join us from 4–6 PM at SBC (372 Ste-Catherine Ouest, suite #507).

Thanks to Pip Day, Camille Usher, Julia Smith, Lindsay Nixon, the board of SBC galerie d’art contemporain, Ersy Contogouris, Kanerahtenhawi Hilda Nicholas, Dorothy Thunder, Reid Shier, Heather Igloliorte, Beatrice Deer, Canadian Art, The Three Sisters and The Andy Warhol Foundation for your labour and generosity in making this project possible.


Launch of the first gesture with Beatrice Deer, Heather Igloliorte, cheyanne turions, Tanya Lukin Linklater, Duane Linklater and Annie Pootoogook’s “Coleman Stove with Robin Hood Flour and Tenderflake” (2003-2004). Photo credit: Camille Usher.