Terrance Houle and Adrian Stimson: Performative Gestures from the Canadian Prairies

By and | 1 August 2014

Just as was made obvious in Stimson’s latest ‘Sick and Tired’, which appeared as part of Witnesses at the Belkin Art Gallery, the suffering and oppression of Indigenous Canadian is all too often a government sponsored program, ignored, or treated with antipathy by Canadian society.

Stimson’s installation depicts a shrouded human figure wrapped in buffalo hide, lying on a dilapidated infirmary bed, with the windows from Old Sun Residential School filtering artificial yellow light over the darkened room. As with Stimson’s recent instillation, Terrance Houle’s work demands that we begin to dismantle the hegemonic ideologies that have become commensurate with regionalism. Colonial success depends upon and reinforces the marginalisation of other cultures. This is the focus of the Belkin Gallery show, which collates work stemming from survivors and witnesses of Residential Schools. The long shadow of colonisation was also apparent in the settler racism which recently saw a fifteen year old Saskatchewan girl attacked for wearing a ‘Got Land? Thank an Indian’ shirt. This, unfortunately, is one of the historical legacies which our regionalist society perpetuates. And yes, the arts and writing communities have done better than most, but it is still nowhere near enough. And that is why we need artists like Stimson and Houle, and Blondeau and Belmore, who are creating work which deconstruct this historical legacy and forces us to consider it.

Adrian Stimson | Sick n Tired

In breaking down these barriers we can begin to approach Stimson and Houle’s work honestly, as Indigenous, Métis, and non-Indigenous viewers, and can begin to consider the commonalities of our regionalist identity instead of relying on our differences. If we begin to acknowledge the historical roots of our language and identity, we can begin to undertake an ethical representation of place, acknowledging the past, and celebrating the present. From this position we move beyond the bucolic, irrationalities of regionalism and begin to celebrate our successes internationally. To paraphrase from Calvino, I see the work of Houle and Stimson as an attempt to express the potentialities contained in our historical regional identity.

This essay was taken from a series of works on Regionalism in contemporary Canadian poetry and art which were written during my time as Writer in Residency through the Interdisciplinary Centre for Creativity and Culture at the University of Saskatchewan. My thanks to Jeanette Lynes for her support and encouragement in allowing me to undertake this research.

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