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Dayna Danger, Adrienne, 2016. Digital print. Courtesy of the artist

The history of Indigenous peoples performing cultural dances and practices for international and colonial audiences is an important part of Indigenous art in general and performance art specifically. From the early contact years onward, the Indigenous performers known as ‘Indians’ faced the conundrum of maintaining traditional cultural practices by performing them on stage while also having that performance fulfill the desires of a colonial imaginary. These performances took place within the context of colonial policies of assimilation and subjugation.1 The exhibition Sovereign Acts II starts from the idea that the performers were aware of how they were being viewed and worked with audience expectations, carving out a future and an identity for themselves despite the constraints they found on every stage. In Sovereign Acts II, the artists Rebecca Belmore, Lori Blondeau, Dayna Danger, Robert Houle, James Luna, Shelley Niro, Adrian Stimson, and Jeff Thomas, contend with the legacy of colonial representations as well as the legacy of cultural performance by utilizing a variety of aesthetic strategies such as reenactment, remixing, memorialization, mimicry, parody, masquerade, and portraiture. They return to the history of performing ‘Indian’ and its conundrums to recuperate the erased and objectified performer as an ancestor, an artist, and an Indigenous subject. Through this return they seek to understand their own relationship to performing culture in a contemporary art context, often turning the gaze back onto an audience and making the colonial desires that underpin colonial imagery visible. Lastly, some of the artists use performance itself as an entry point in rewriting colonial historical narratives from an Indigenous point of view. The exhibition seeks to highlight the artists’ works as performative ‘acts’ that negotiate expectations as much as represent culture and identity. It is important to state that representing Indigenous culture includes aspects of contemporary culture, not just the pre-contact culture of the colonial imaginary. The Indigenous acts of making work follow the path of the past Indigenous performers to present negotiated and highly conscious representation of culture and/or identity.

– Wanda Nanibush

  1. For Canadian Indian Policy see J.R. Miller, ed., Sweet Promises: A Reader on Indian-White Relations in Canada (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1991. For American Indian policy see: Vine Deloria, ed., American Indian Policy in the Twentieth Century (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1985).


Beaucage, Pierre. « Parcours de l’indianité : théologie, politique, anthropologie ». Cahiers des imaginaires 3, no. 3: 1-79.

Berkhofer, Robert F., Jr. The White Man’s Indian: Images of the American Indian from Columbus to the Present. New York: Vintage Books-Random House, 1978.

Bhabha, Homi. The Location of Culture. London: Routledge, 1994.

Burgess, Marilyn and Gail Guthrie Valaskakis. Princesses indiennes et cow-girls : stéréotypes de la frontière / Indian Princesses and Cow-Girls: Stereotypes from the Frontier. Montreal: Oboro, 1995.

Butler, Judith. Bodies That Matter: On the Discursive Limits of “Sex”. London: Routledge, 1993.

—. Gender Trouble. London: Routledge, 1999.

Read more

Carter, Sarah. Capturing Women: The Manipulation of Cultural Imagery in Canada’s Prairie West. Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1997.

Clifford, James. “On Ethnographic Allegory.” Writing Culture: The Poetics and Politics of Ethnography. Clifford, James and George Marcus, eds. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996.

Crosby, Marcia. “Construction of the Imaginary Indian.” Vancouver Anthology: The Institutional Politics of Art. Ed. Stan Douglas. Vancouver: Talonbook, 1991/2011. 267-291.

Deloria, Philip J. Playing Indian. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1998.

Driskill, Qwo-Li. “Stolen From Our Bodies: First Nations Two-Spirits/Queers and the Journey to a Sovereign Erotic.” Studies in American Indian Literatures 15, no. 2 (Summer 2004): 50-64.

Driskill, Qwo-Li et al., eds. Sovereign Erotics: A Collection of Two-Spirit Literature. Tuscon: University of Arizona Press, 2011.

Dubois, Jérôme and Dalie Giroux, eds. Les Arts performatifs et spectaculaires des Premières Nations de l’est du Canada. Paris: L’Harmattan, 2014.

Fabian, Johannes. Time and the Other: How Anthropology Makes Its Object. Berkeley: Columbia University Press. 1983.

Favell, Rosalie. Acting Up: Performing the Indian. Winnipeg: Platform: Centre for Photographic and Digital Arts, 2011.

Forte, Maximilian C. Who is an Indian?: Race, Place, and the Politics of Indigeneity in the Americas. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2013.

Francis, Daniel. The Imaginary Indian: The Image of the Indian in Canadian Culture. Vancouver: Arsenal Pulp Press, 2011.

Gidley, Mick. Edward S. Curtis and the North American Indian, Incorporated. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998.

Goldie, Terry. Fear and Temptation: The Image of the Indigene in Canadian, Australian, and New Zealand Literatures. Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1989.

Graham, Laura R. and H. Glenn Penny. Performing Indigeneity: Global Histories and Contemporary Experiences. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2013.

Hopkins, Candice. “The Golden Potlatch
: Study in Mimesis and Capitalist Desire.” Fillip 13 (Spring 2011). <>

Maxwell, Anne. Colonial Photography & Exhibitions: Representations of the ‘Native’ and the Making of European Identities. Leicester: Leicester University Press, 1999.

Minh-ha, Trinh T. Woman Native Other. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. 1989.

Moses, L. G. Wild West Shows and the Images of American Indians, 1883-1933. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1996.

Nanibush, Wanda. “Contamination and Reclamation: Robert Houle’s Paris/Ojibwa.” Fuse Magazine 34, no. 1 (2011).

Peters, Evelyn and Chris Andersen. Indigenous in the City: Contemporary Identities and Cultural Innovation. Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press, 2013.

Phillips, Ruth. “Performing the Native Woman: Primitivism and Mimicry in Early Twentieth-Century Visual Culture.” Antimodernism and Artistic Experience: Policing the Boundaries of Modernity. Ed. Lynda Jessup. 26-49. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2000.

Poignant, Roslyn. Professional Savages: Captive Lives and Western Spectacle. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2004.

Ryan, Allan J. The Trickster Shift: Humour and Irony in Contemporary Native Art. Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press, 1999.

Roy, Susan. “Musqueam House Posts and the Construction of the “Ethnographic” Object.” These Mysterious People: Shaping History and Archaeology in a Northwest Coast Community. Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2010. 54-81.

Simard, Jean-Jacques. La Réduction. L’Autochtone inventé et les Amérindiens d’aujourd’hui. Québec : Septentrion, 2003.

Sioui Durand, Guy. « Jouer à l’Indien est une chose, être un Amérindien en est un autre », Recherches amérindiennes au Québec 33, no. 3 (2003) 23-35.

Sioui Durand, Guy. « Être écrivain amérindien au Québec : indianité et création littéraire », Recherches sociographiques 48, no. 2 (2007): 183-186.

Spivak, Gayatri. A Critique of Postcolonial Reason: Towards History of the Vanishing Present. Cambridge: Harvard Univiversity Press, 1999.

Torgovnick, Marrianna. Gone Primitive: Savage Intellectuals, Modern Lives. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1990.

Vizenor, Gerald. Manifest Manners: Narratives on Postindian Survivance. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1994.

Vizenor, Gerald. “L’art et la Littéerature amérindiens aujourd’hui: survivance et sagesse tragique.” Museum International 62, no. 3 (September 2010): 42-53.

—. Fugitive Poems: Native American Indian Scenes of Absence and Presence. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2000.

Young, Robert J. C. Colonial Desire: Hybridity in Theory, Culture and Race. London: Routledge, 1995.


The complete essay written by the exhibition curator Wanda Nanibush can be viewed and downloaded in the Texts and Documents section. A printed version is also available at the Gallery.

Produced with the support of the Frederick and Mary Kay Lowy Art Education Fund.


Wanda Nanibush

Wanda Nanibush is an Anishinaabe-kwe image and word warrior from the Beausoleil First Nation. She is currently the assistant curator of Canadian and Indigenous art at the Art Gallery of Ontario. She holds a Masters in Visual Studies from the University of Toronto. She teaches graduate courses on history, politics and art at the University of Toronto. Nanibush lives in Toronto.



Rebecca Belmore

Rebecca Belmore is a Montreal-based multi-disciplinary artist and a member of the Lac Seul First Nation at Frenchman’s Head, Ontario. She attended OCAD University in Toronto and is internationally recognized for her performance and installation art. Since 1987, her multi-disciplinary work has addressed history, place and identity through the media of sculpture, installation, video and performance. Belmore was Canada’s official representative at the 2005 Venice Biennale. Her work has appeared in numerous exhibitions both nationally and internationally including two solo touring exhibitions: The Named and the Unnamed, Morris and Helen Belkin Art Gallery, Vancouver, (2002); and 33 Pieces, Blackwood Gallery, University of Toronto at Mississauga, (2001). She won the Jack and Doris Shadbolt Foundation’s prestigious VIVA Award 2004 and the 2009 Hnatyshyn Visual Arts Award.


2017-01-25-Ellen_SovereignActs2-010In a Wilderness Garden, 2012
3-channel video installation
4 min. 20 sec., 10 min., 44 sec.

Courtesy of the artist

English “wilderness” gardens coordinated highly stylized and idealized views of nature. Combining seemingly informal growth with precise hedge enclosures these spaces served as stages for pastoral and colonial fantasies. In her video installation Belmore addresses an eighteenth century event where a Mi’kmaq man named Silmoodawa (Silmutewey) was forced to play the “savage” within a garden in France. Slyly assuming his assigned role and pushing it to the edge of French propriety, the man hunted, killed and prepared a deer and crowned his performance by defecating in front of his audience. Reading this act a foundational work of performance art, Belmore reinvested in its history first as a performance at the Banff Centre, Alberta in 1997 and here as a video installation. On the screen to the left, she is seen running through the woods with her hands tied behind her back and digging at the fallen leaves and earth beneath. In the middle, an upright blanket-wrapped figure arrives at the corner of a thick and tall garden hedge.


  • Consider the history and role of wilderness or romantic gardens as extension of the colonial project and a repository and stage for colonial fantasy.
  • Think about states of enclosure and surround. How does Belmore map the limits of the garden? How might the resistance put forth—digging at the ground, covered figure facing the hedge—bracket off and diminish the scale of the garden so that it no longer surrounds but is in fact surrounded.


Artist’s website <>

Nanibush, Wanda. An interview with Rebecca Belmore. Decolonization: Indigeneity, Education & Society 3, no. 1 (2014): 213-217. <>

Simpson, Leanne. “Canada Day, Rebecca Belmore, and me.” July 2, 2012.

Augaitis, Daina, and Ritter, Kathleen. Rebecca Belmore: Rising to the Occasion. Vancouver: Vancouver Art Gallery, 2008.

Bailey, Jann et al. Rebecca Belmore: Fountain. Vancouver: Morris and Helen Belkin Art Gallery, University of British Columbia, 2005.

Enright, Robert. “The Poetics of History: An Interview with Rebecca Belmore.” Border Crossings 24, no. 3 (2005).

Lori Blondeau

Lori Blondeau is a Cree/Saulteaux/Métis artist and curator based in Saskatoon. She is a co-founder and the current director of TRIBE, one of Canada’s most innovative and exciting Aboriginal arts organizations. Blondeau’s performance, photo, and media-based works have been presented nationally and internationally. She is currently completing a PhD in Interdisciplinary Studies at the University of Saskatchewan. She has collaborated with artist James Luna on a series of installations and a performance titled Dead Fall Revue (2000). Blondeau’s work has explored the influence of popular media and culture (contemporary and historical) on Aboriginal self-identity, self-image and self-definition. The performance personas she creates refer to the damage of colonialism and to the ironic pleasures of displacement and resistance. Her current work is a series of performances based on memory and home, displacement and decolonization. In 2006, Blondeau’s solo exhibition Grace showed at the Mendel Art Gallery in Saskatoon, she was part of the Requickening Project with Shelley Niro, presented during the 2007 Venice Biennale. Recently, Urban Shaman, Winnipeg presented Asiniy Iskwew (2016), surveying her output to date.


2017-01-25-Ellen_SovereignActs2-012Asiniy Iskwew, 2016
Digital inkjet prints

Courtesy of the artist

2017-01-25-Ellen_SovereignActs2-068Adrian Stimson & Lori Blondeau
Putting the Wild back into the West, 2004-2010
Digital inkjet prints

Courtesy of the artists

An exercise in expanded portraiture, Asiniy Iskwew shows Blondeau in a long, flowing red dress standing atop four Plains Indigenous rock formations between Canada and the United States. Varied in their purposes, these sites act as and embody historical and cultural records as well as serving as spiritual and medicinal resources. Blondeau’s research into these sites steams from her own relationship to the relatively recent absence of Mistaseni, a four hundred tonne rock of spiritual importance to Cree and Assiniboine people in Saskatchewan which was dynamited in 1966 to accommodate the flooding of the Lake Diefenbaker reservoir. Steady and upright with the rocks beneath her feet, red fabric cascading across the stone surfaces and shot irrespective of colonial borders Blondeau’s photographs maintain and reinforce Indigenous relations with the land.


  • Considering the formal make up of the photographs: portrait orientation, single figure and location. With the significance of the location in mind explore in what ways Blondeau extends or accentuates portraiture.
  • The ways Blondeau’s photographs act as documents and assertions of resilience. How does the photographic record correspond with the value of the sites photographed, themselves markers of historical events or spiritual sites and sources?


Blondeau, Lori. Lori Blondeau: Who do you think you are? : Performance, Installation, Documentation, 1996-2007. Mendel Art Gallery, 2009.

Bell, Lynne. “Scandalous Personas, Difficult Knowledge, Restless Images.” Canadian Art, Winter 2004. <>

Taunton, Carla. “Lori Blondeau: High-Tech Storytelling for Social Change.” MA thesis, Carleton University, 2006. <>

Dayna Danger

Dayna Danger is an emerging Queer, Metis/Ojibway/Polish artist raised in Winnipeg, MB.  Based in Montreal, QC, she holds a graduate degree in Studio Arts from Concordia University.

Utilizing photography, sculpture, and video, Danger ‘s practice questions the line between empowerment and objectification by claiming space with her human scale work. Co-opting the visual language of fashion and pornography, she repurposes and challenges perceptions of power, gender, performativity, representation, sexuality, and mixed identities.


2017-01-25-Ellen_SovereignActs2-034Adrienne, 2017
Lindsay & Sasha, 2017
Kandace, 2016
Digital prints

Courtesy of the artist

2017-01-25-Ellen_SovereignActs2-035Three Masks, 2016, 2016, 2017
Leather and bead embroidery

Courtesy of the artist

By bringing leatherwork, BDSM play and beading into correspondence through her masks Danger participates in what Cherokee writer Qwo-Li Driskill terms a “sovereign erotics.” This emerging from an understanding that heteropatriarchy and gender norms are foundational to the colonial project and that this system depends on the perpetuation of sexualized objectification and violence upon Indigenous bodies. Accordingly, queer standpoints, practices and critiques must initiate and sustain processes towards decolonization. In these confrontations and interruptions sovereign erotics is first a means of repossession of ones’ own body, of self-care and mutual engagement of these processes irrespective of colonial normativity be it found outside or internalized within queer communities. In beading her masks, Danger entwines kink culture with the politics and care of decolonization.


  • The masks exhibited as objects. How the meeting of beading, leather-work and BDSM disrupts (dominates over) colonial ethnographic desires
  • The masks as part of a practice of self-care. The principles of kink culture—consent, protocol and communication, self-determination and role-play—and their correspondence with feminist and decolonial thinking and action.


Artist’s website <>

Tea & Bannock profile <>

Thomas Edison

America inventor Thomas Alva Edison (February 11, 1847 – October 18, 1931) inventions ranged from telecommunications, electric power and energy storage, sound recording, motion pictures, resource extraction technology. Holding 1,093 patents through his life and forming over 300 companies, he developed the first industrial research laboratories and streamlined in manufacture the advancement from research to development and commercialization.


2017-01-25-Ellen_SovereignActs2-023Ghost Dance, 1894
35mm black and white film transferred to video, 21 sec.

While performing in Brooklyn, New York in summer and fall of 1894, members of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show visited Thomas Edison’s Black Maria studio in West Orange, New Jersey, the first movie studio in the United States. In front of Edison’s Kinetographe camera Lakota Sioux members of the troupe performed a version of the ghost dance, resulting in one of the first filmic records of Indigenous performance. A circle dance emerging out of recent Lakota resistance to assimilation, the ghost dance had been prohibited from performance since 1890, the same year of Sitting Bull’s murder and the massacre at Wounded Knee.


  • Taking into account the social and legal prohibitions on Indigenous culture and performance, consider how the performers used the permissiveness of Buffalo Bill’s spectacle to document an assertion of both religious and political resistance
  • Counter the salvage paradigm where the film is read as a record of a fading culture think about the possibilities initiated by the circulation and reproduction of this document


Ghost Dance at the Library of Congress <>

DeMallie, Raymond J. “The Lakota Ghost Dance: An Ethnohistorical Account.” Pacific Historical Review 51, no. 4 (1982): 385-405.

Salgala, Sandra K. “Edison and Cody.” Buffalo Bill on the Silver Screen: The Films of William F. Cody: A Digital Companion. <>

Mooney, James. The ghost-dance religion and the Sioux outbreak of 1890. 1896.<>

Robert Houle

Robert Houle is an Anishinabe artist, curator and scholar. He is a member of Sandy Bay First Nation, Manitoba. He currently lives and works in Toronto. Exhibiting since the early 1970’s, Houle has had many international and national solo and group shows including the multi-media installation Paris/Ojibwa at the Canadian Cultural Centre in Paris; Indians from A to Z and Sovereignty over Subjectivity at the Winnipeg Art Gallery; Anishnabe Walker Court, an intervention at the Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto and Troubling Abstractions at the Robert McLaughlin Art Gallery and the McMaster Museum of Art. Houle has written many essays and monographs on major contemporary First Nations and Native American artists. His considerable influence as an artist, curator, writer, educator and cultural theorist led to his being awarded the Janet Braide Memorial Award for Excellence in Canadian Art History in 1993; the Eiteljorg Fellowship in 2003; and the Canada Council International Residency Program for the Visual Arts in Paris. Recently, Houle has returned to OCAD University to lecture on Indigenous abstraction in the faculty of art.


2017-01-25-Ellen_SovereignActs2-065Shaman Never Die, 2015
Shaman Dream in Colour, 2015
Shaman Heals by Touching, 2015
Oil on canvas

Courtesy of the artist and Kinsman Robinson Galleries, Toronto

To work through Houle’s practice is to follow a variable path along the convergences of abstraction and figuration, wherein meet historical documents, personal memories and declarative language. In earlier paintings, such as the Parfleches of the Last Supper (1983) or The Place Where God Lives (1989) Houle employed gestural abstraction to think through the entanglement of Christian and Native beliefs and traditions. Later, in his multimedia installation Paris/Ojibwa (2010), Houle constructed a nineteenth century salon with four portraits set into its paneled walls. Each featured a figure seen from the back looking outwards toward the horizon with brightly colored strokes ascending from or descending to the top of their heads. As details of the installation they each carried a title: Dancer, Healer, Shaman and Warrior, and their base sat a small abstract painting of smallpox. The overall installation concerns the case of a troupe of Ojibwa dancers, led by lecturer and performer Maungwudaus, who travelled to Paris to perform for the king and a large public. 2012’s Mississauga Portraits takes as it source a daguerreotype shot in Chicago shortly after the troupe’s return. From the group photo Houle draws out three portraits: Maungwudaus, his second wife Hannah and Waubuddick.

Seen here Houle’s shaman series demonstrates a fluid mixing of his abstract vocabulary and portraiture to draw out figures qualified by their capacities to dream in colour, heal by touching, and never die. His brushwork lays down motifs and effects found throughout his work from a cross form that alternates between a religious sign and a star to monochromatic washes and an short, animate strokes that twist and turn across the surface.


  • The formal details and their variations, the different ways figuration is achieved in the three works
  • The elements or qualities at are connected to to the figures. Those that contribute to abstraction. Those whose placement and role is indeterminate.


 Houle, Robert. Robert Houle: Indians from A to Z. Winnipeg: Winnipeg Art Gallery, 1990.

Houle, Robert and Shirley Madill. Robert Houle: Sovereignty over Subjectivity. Winnpege: Winnipeg Art Gallery, 1999.

Houle, Robert, Nelcya Delanoė, Barry Ace, and David W. McIntosh. Paris/Ojibwa. Peterborough: Peterborough Art Gallery, 2011.

Nanibush, Wanda. Review of Contamination and Reclamation: Robert Houle’s Paris/Ojibwa, Canadian Cultural Centre, Paris, 13 April – 10 September, 2010. Fuse Magazine, 29 December, 2010. <>

James Luna

Performance and installation artist James Luna (Puyukitchum/Luiseno) resides on the La Jolla Indian Reservation in North County San Diego, California. Since 1975, he has had over 41 solo exhibitions, participated in 85 group exhibitions and has performed internationally at venues that include the Museum of Modern Art (NYC), Whitney Museum of American Art, New Museum of Art, San Francisco Museum of Art, Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the National Gallery of Canada, and Museum of Contemporary Native Art, Santa Fe, NM.

He has received numerous grants and awards throughout his career and most notably in 2005, he was selected as the first Sponsored Artist of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian presented at the 2005 Venice Biennale’s 51st International Art Exhibition in Venice, Italy. In 2012, James was Awarded Honorary Doctorate of Humanities from the Institute of American Indian Arts, Santa Fe, NM.


2017-01-25-Ellen_SovereignActs2-055In My Room, 2016
Video installation with fake flame device, logs and rocks
Video; 2 min. 17 sec., colour, sound

Courtesy of the artist

2017-01-25-Ellen_SovereignActs2-032Ishi Speaks, 2011
Digital inkjet prints

Courtesy of the artist

With a monitor mounted on the wall and a faux campfire nearby, Luna’s In My Room stages a meeting of domestic and ceremonial ritual all to the soundtrack of the Beach Boys song In My Room. In the video, Luna can be seen setting up a “Sweat Lodge” ceremony accompanied by Brian Wilson’s near-monotone paean to solitude:

There’s a world where I can go and tell my secrets to
In my room, in my room
In this world I lock out all my worries and my fears
In my room, in my room

Do my dreaming and my scheming
Lie awake and pray
Do my crying and my sighing
Laugh at yesterday

Now it’s dark and I’m alone
But I won’t be afraid
In my room, in my room
In my room, in my room
In my room, in my room

In merging the Beach Boys’ all-American image of California surf culture with Indigenous ritual, Luna thinks through his two cultures and the ordinariness of sometimes just needing a bit of space and time to oneself.

With his trio of photographs, Ishi Speaks Luna speculates on the thoughts and feelings of Ishi, a Yahi man who walked into the town of Oroville, California in 1911. Identified by an anthropologist as the last of his tribe, the 50 year-old Ishi was moved to the University of California Berkeley’s campus. There he lived in an apartment at the Museum of Anthropology where he was studied as a living specimen and employed as a research assistant.

Considering the treatment of Ishi as an object of study, the attributions made on his behalf (including his name, assigned by anthropologist Alfred Kroeber) and the miscommunications throughout these encounters, Luna intervenes into the ethnographic frame to articulate what might not have been said, heard or clearly understood.


  • Luna’s practice of assuming the role of the ethnographic subject as a way to turn it against a colonial gaze and logic
  • How Luna re-routes and reclaims pop culture


Smith, Paul Chatt. “Luna remembers.” James Luna: Emendatio. National Museum of the American Indian, 2005. <>

Townsend-Gault, Charlotte, “Rebecca Belmore and James Luna on Location at Venice: The Allegorical Indian Redux.” Art History 29, no. 4 (2006): 721-755.

Shelley Niro

Shelley Niro is a member of the Six Nations Reserve, Bay of Quinte Mohawk, Turtle Clan. Niro was born in Niagara Falls, New York in 1954 and currently lives in Brantford, Ontario. She graduated from OCAD University with honours in visual arts and received her MFA from the University of Western Ontario. In 2001, she became an Eiteljorg recipient at the Museum of Western and Indian Arts, Indiana. Niro participated in the 2003 Women in The Director’s Chair Program at the Banff Centre for the Arts. In the fall of 2006, Niro was selected to be a fellow with Women in Film and GM Accelerator Grants. In 2012 she was the inaugural recipient of the Aboriginal Arts Award presented through the Ontario Arts Council. Niro’s work can be found in the Canadian Museum of Civilization, Quebec; the National Gallery of Canada; the Canadian Museum of Contemporary Photography; the Portrait Gallery of Canada, Ottawa; The Rockwell Museum of Western Art, Corning, New York; the University of Seattle Library; and the National Museum of the American Indian, Washington, DC.


2017-01-25-Ellen_SovereignActs2-031The 500 Year Itch, 1992
Hand colored gelatin silver print, sepia toned gelatin silver print, and gelatin silver print

Courtesy of the Woodland Cultural Centre, Brantford, Ontario

2017-01-25-Ellen_SovereignActs2-025The Iroquois Is a Highly Developed Matriarchal Society, 1991
3 hand tinted gelatin silver prints

Courtesy of the artist

2017-01-25-Ellen_SovereignActs2-066Abnormally Aboriginal, 2013
Photographs on canvas

Courtesy of the artist

In 500 Year Itch, Niro uses masquerade and appropriation as a means to address stereotypes and limits applied to the roles Indigenous woman can play. Casting herself in Marilyn Monroe’s place in The Seven Year Itch (1955), Niro uses the iconic scene to deliver a sharp-witted critique of colonialism, signposted by the quincentenary of Christopher Columbus’s landing. Displacing Monroe’s media personality as a figure of normative white femininity, Niro reveals the place of popular culture in Indigenous identity and also initiates an act of feminist solidarity and resistance, sharing in the Monroe beyond the icon who also fraternized and corresponded with queers, intellectuals, Jews and Communists in Cold War America.

In The Iroquois Is a Highly Developed Matriarchal Society, Niro takes a phrase that alone might read as a distanced anthropological conclusion and opens it up to the intimacy and everydayness of the life of a Mohawk woman most immediate to her. Photographing her mother seated beneath a hair dryer in her kitchen, Niro’s trio of portraits brings personal nuance and context to a statement that might otherwise ring as an easy generalization.

Abnormally Aboriginal, is a triptych self-portrait of the artist wearing three black t-shirts. With each shirt featuring a graphic of DNA strand, the portraits from left to right examine how systems of identification and categorization are constructed through various combinations of language and images.


  • How Niro uses repetition, double takes and word play to reinvest in and break the authority of iconic images or authoritative statements
  • Her use of popular and vernacular culture as means to assert and affirm the everyday of Mohawk life and culture, in particular the experience of and among women


Artist’s website <>

The Shirt, 2003 <>

Abbott, Larry. Interview with Shelly Niro. A Time of Visions. <>

Podedworny, Carol. Interview with Shelly Niro, Mohawks In Beehives + Other Works, Mercer Union, Toronto, 1992. <>

Adrian Stimson

Adrian A. Stimson is a interdisciplinary artist and member of the Siksika (Blackfoot) Nation in southern Alberta where he currently lives. He has exhibited and performed nationally and internationally. His research has focused on identity, metaphysics, two-spirit people, ecology, spirit and healing modalities within artists’ practice. He was an artist with the Canadian Forces Artist Program and traveled with Canadian Forces to Kandahar and Masum Ghar Afghanistan. He has numerous solo and group exhibitions which include; If we never met at the Pātaka Art + Museum in Porirua, NZ, With Secrecy and Despatch, Campbelltown Arts Centre, NSW Australia and Indigenous Contemporary Art, London UK and Buffalo Boy’s Let Them Eat Pie, Nuit Blanche, Saskatoon. His art has been collected by the Mackenzie Art Gallery, Regina, Glenbow Museum, Calgary and the British Museum, London, UK. After completing his BFA at Alberta College of Art and Design in Calgary, Stimson moved to Saskatoon to complete a MFA at the University of Saskatchewan where he spent thirteen years. Stimson was awarded the Blackfoot Visual Arts Award, the Queen Elizabeth II Golden Jubilee Medal in 2003 and the Alberta Centennial Medal in 2005 for his human rights and diversity activism in various communities.


2017-01-25-Ellen_SovereignActs2-014Buffalo Boy Shaman Exterminator, 2005
Digital inkjet print

Courtesy of the artist

2017-01-25-Ellen_SovereignActs2-051Onward Upward, 2005
Digital inkjet prints on archival paper, vinyl lettering

Courtesy of the artist

2017-01-25-Ellen_SovereignActs2-050Sketches of Indian Life, 2005
Digital inkjet prints on archival paper, vinyl lettering

Courtesy of the artist

2017-01-25-Ellen_SovereignActs2-038Buffalo Boy’s Wild West Peep Show, 2007
4-channel video installation, poster
North 1 min. 28 sec., Don’t Look East 7 min. 26 sec., Sacred South 8 min. 56 sec., Wild West 2 min. 34 sec.

Courtesy of the artist

2017-01-25-Ellen_SovereignActs2-068Adrian Stimson & Lori Blondeau
Putting the Wild back into the West, 2004-2010
Digital inkjet prints

Courtesy of the artists

In Stimson’s work identity is constituted by an ever-shifting and overlapping cast of personas, recurrent characters include: Buffalo Boy, The Shaman Exterminator and The Lord of the Plain, and queerness is key to these figures who all present themselves through a combination of resistance, camp and drag. The four-channel video installation, Buffalo Boy’s Wild West Peep Show presents a crotch-height survey of Buffalo Boy, a gender-bending Buffalo Bill parody, from their exploits along the canals of Venice to the salt flats of Death Valley – outfitted in the requisite buffalo skins, stocking and pearls. In Onward Upward, Stimson plays an Anglican priest in fishnets and high heels, speaking to his residential school experience and the hypocrisies of its principle actors. Similarly, Sketches of Indian Life shows a wide-eyed Buffalo Boy with hair-braided and sequined cowboy hat hung next to the chalkboard looking up from Rev. Canon Frost’s 1904 book, Sketches of Indian Life. In Putting the WILD back into the WEST Buffalo Boy meets Belle Sauvage, Lori Blondeau’s own contribution to a polymorphic world of vaudeville, saloons and gunfights turned on its head. Through camp Stimson unhinges and makes mutable colonial narratives, a queering of history that equally initiates and is motivated by processes of self-acceptance, self-knowledge and healing.


  • How Stimson’s personas occupy, unhinge and open up colonial constructions of both native and settler identities
  • When crouching to view Stimson’s peep show consider how the position assumed models your role as a voyeur and how it cheekily approximates the single-viewing devices that Edison’s early films were distributed on


Artist’s website <>

Bell, Lynne. “Adrian Stimson: Buffalo Boy at Burning Man.” Canadian Art, Summer 2007, 44-48. <>

Rice, Ryan and Carla Taunton. “Buffalo Boy: THEN AND NOW.” Fuse Magazine, vol. 32, no. 2 (2009): 18-25. Reprinted INDIANacts: Aboriginal Performance Art. Vancouver : Grunt Gallery. <>

Stimson, Adrian. Buffalo Boy’s Heart On: Buffalo Boy’s 100 Years of Wearing His Heart On His Sleeve. MFA thesis. University of Saskatchewan, 2005. <>

Jeff Thomas

Jeff Thomas is an Onondaga artist and curator of the Six Nations Confederacy. He was born in Buffalo, New York, in 1956 and currently lives and works in Ottawa, Ontario. His photographic work raises issues of racial stereotyping and mutual misunderstanding through references to the histories, symbols, and actualities of urban-Indian experience. He has exhibited widely since 1979. In 2010, the Canadian Cultural Centre presented Unmasking: Arthur Renwick, Adrian Stimson, Jeff Thomas, as part of the Photoquai Visual Arts Biennial, organized by the Quai Branly Museum, Paris. Recent solo exhibitions include: Mapping Iroquoia: Cold City Frieze, McMaster Museum of Art, Hamilton, Ontario (2012), Father’s Day, Urban Shaman, Winnipeg, Manitoba (2012), Resistance Is NOT Futile, Stephen Bulger Gallery, Toronto, Ontario (2013), and A Necessary Fiction: My Conversation with Nicholas de Grandmaison at the University of Lethbridge Art Gallery, Alberta (2015). His curatorial exhibitions are research projects and community engagements involving land claims, Residential school history and Indigenous art history. Thomas is represented by Stephen Bulger Gallery, Toronto.


2017-01-25-Ellen_SovereignActs2-067Shoots the Crow, Lakota, 1995. Bismarck, North Dakota, 1995
Get Up and Dance: Ron Good Eagle, Comanche/Osage/Sac & Fox, 1995
The Powwow Suitcase, 1982
Amos Keye, Haudenosaunee (Iroquois), 1982
Richard Poafpybitty (Pink Panther), Comanche/Omaha, 1983
Turtle Powwow, Niagara Falls, New York, 1983
Pigment prints on archival paper

Courtesy of the artist

One part of a larger photographic project titled Fieldwork, Thomas’s Strong Hearts series documents powwow events from the early 80s through to the mid 90s. Interrupting the contract between photography and the ethnographic gaze, Thomas explores the nuances of self-representation when the camera is in the hands of an Indigenous artist. Key is Thomas’s eye for the presence and immediacy of the dancers in the powwow context. Where a colonial framing isolated its subjects in the studio or intervened in the field through the imposition and arrangement of clothing, objects and people, here Thomas focuses on the background activity in the dancers’ preparation and their self-presentation towards his camera.


  • Compare Thomas’s documentation to the Edison film. Consider the maintenance of traditional culture through performance, be it on stage framed by colonial desire or at an Indigenous-led powwow.
  • The moments before performance, the dancers’ preparation of regalia and makeup and the activity around them


Artist’s website <>

Hill, Richard W. and Jeff Thomas. Jeff Thomas: A Study of Indian-ness. Toronto: Gallery 44, 2004. <>

Payne, Carol and Jeff Thomas. “Aboriginal Interventions into the Photographic Archives: A Dialogue between Carol Payne and Jeffrey Thomas.” Visual Resources 18 (2002): 109-125. <>



Performance and performativity
  • As spectacle. How through temporal, spatial and vocal elements performance can operate as a mutable site of negotiation of and intervention into the prescriptions of colonial desire and violence.
  • Of the self. How identity is policed by normative categories of race, gender and sexuality. How these norms are reinforced through repetition and ritual. How abiding by the limits of these social constructions is required to participate in and appear coherent within dominant society. How through an apprehension of the performativity of identity that these same rules and roles and the system they subtend can be troubled, scrutinized, and interrupted.
Allegory and mimesis
  • What happens when colonial historical narratives or cultural descriptions are read as allegories? Is there another narrative, another set of ideas to be found alongside what is written, said, seen or performed? What previously hidden fictions and presuppositions arise?
  • Allegory as a self-reflexive form of fiction, representation and performance. As a way of opening up narratives and roles to contingency, to multiple voices in order to displace the authority of a single voice or story.
  • How the artists in the exhibition occupy, expose and refuse the figure of the invented or imaginary “Indian.”
  • Introduced within an Indigenous context by Anishinaabe writer and scholar, Gerald Vizenor, survivance encompasses acts and assertions of the incontestable presence and continuance of Indigenous people and their culture. This guided by a refusal of the colonial myths of native disappearance, primitivism and victimry. Within a Québecois nationalist context “la survivance” signals the endurance of francophone culture and the delineation of an independent state along sociocultural lines. At different points Jacques Derrida has described survivance as a spectral presence, writing of past political and cultural projects as maintaining a life after death or relic-like status, later shifting the emphasis to the vitality or excess of seemingly lapsed or supressed ideas and acts. Key for Vizenor is the suffix –ance. Rather than survival which names a state of lack and near-absence, survivance points to action, process and proliferation.
  • Irony as a key strategy of survivance, in the sense that it can interrupt colonial narratives, exposing domination as a simulation and claim outcomes outside of enforced conclusions of colonial narratives. How is irony used by the artists in the exhibition?
  • Rather than simply drawing out the contradictions of the colonial construction of Indian-ness and sustaining an either/or binary, in what ways do the artists in this exhibition identify colonial anxiety and desire and exploit the instability of the representations and roles it attempts to assign?
Queerness and Indigenity
  • How sexuality is colonized. How the enforcement of gender norms, the policing of bodies and sexualized violence is a foundational element of colonialism.
  • How sovereignty can be embodied. How eroticism can constitute a form of knowledge that is in correspondence with tradition, community, ancestry and territory.