In her curatorial and writing practice Cathy Mattes focuses on Aboriginal issues and art, and explores concepts of community and dialogical aesthetics. Several examples are: Frontrunners (2011, Urban Shaman Gallery and Plug-In ICA) Blanche: KC Adams & Jonathan Jones (2008, Chalkhorse Gallery, Sydney Australia), Rockstars & Wannabes (2007, Urban Shaman Gallery), and Transcendence – KC Adams (2006, Art Gallery of Southwestern Manitoba). Mattes has contributed writings to the Museum of Contemporary Native Arts, MAWA (Mentoring Artists For Women’s Art), Art Gallery of Greater Victoria, The Winnipeg Art Gallery, Plug-In ICA, National Museum of the American Indian, and Gallery 101 to name some. In 2010 she was chosen to be a delegate on the Canada Council Aboriginal Curators Delegation to New Zealand and Australia and has presented lectures nationally and internationally. In addition to her freelance work Mattes was the curator at the Art Gallery of Southwestern Manitoba between 2003 and 2005, and has been a consultant for various government agencies and arts organizations. Mattes is an Assistant Professor teaching art history at Brandon University in the Visual and Aboriginal Arts Department, and is pursuing her PHD studies at the University of Manitoba in Native Studies. She is a proud Katipâmsôchik (Metis) living in Southwest Manitoba. Mattes is on the advisory council for the Aboriginal Curatorial Collective.

Curator Profile
Tawnshi Kiyawow, my name is Cathy Mattes, and I am a Metis freelance contemporary art curator and writer living in rural Manitoba. I have been a practicing curator and writer for about nine years. In the mid-90s, I lived in Montreal for several years to obtain my Masters in Art History degree from Concordia University. During that time I interned at Oboro Gallery, and worked on a nation2nation project called Tattoonation. After graduating, I moved back to Winnipeg, and did a one year curatorial residency at the Winnipeg Art Gallery. During that time I was responsible for eight exhibitions. Being at the WAG further opened my eyes to the realities of Aboriginal curators and artists, and fed my political and cultural mindset.

Towards the end of my residency, I became involved with Urban Shaman Gallery. Urban Shaman was my refuge from the WAG. It was a safe space for like-minded individuals to engage in critical dialogue about contemporary art, and to work together in changing the climate for Aboriginal artists and cultural workers in Winnipeg. I was on the board for four years during it’s first major growth spurt ( the receiving of organizational funding, having regular programming, hiring Leanne L’Hirondelle as Director, then hiring Steve Loft, and moving to a larger space), and continue to work on various writing, curating and consulting projects. Nine years later, my appreciation for Urban Shaman goes unwavered, and I still depend on the organization as a refuge.

In 2003 I took a position as the curator at the Art Gallery of Southwestern Manitoba in Brandon, MB. The AGSM’s mandate is to have 30% Aboriginal content in programming. It has a main and community gallery, and every six weeks usually presents two – three shows in the main gallery, and one in the community gallery. The local public was a treat and challenge – people of all walks of life frequented the gallery, as it was on top of the local library. From Aboriginal youth to Hutterites, my role was to prove to all of them that contemporary art could be relevant to everyday life. This involved organizing exhibitions about humour, quilting, or the tenacity of Aboriginal youth. As I was only part-time, the work load of organizing approximately forty exhibitions in less than a two year period was too much, and I decided to go back to working as a freelance curator and writer.

It was during my time at the AGSM that engaging communities through curatorial initiatives become a higher priority. “Community” is a complicated concept that I feel needs to be explored, questioned, and located. In my curatorial and writing work I try to do this by looking at the work of artists like KC Adams, inviting people to locate their inner rock stars, travelling to Australia and Venice, Italy to meet with other Indigenous cultural workers, and drawing inspiration from my family and youth.

In the last couple of years, my children have played a huge role in my work. The challenge of finding balance between work and soccer, daycare and gymnastics practice is one of my biggest preoccupations. Awhile ago I had a conversation with some artists/mothers about the stigma of acknowledging the impact of children on our work. Some felt their work was considered less by the larger arts community if it was about their children’s impact. I decided that instead of pretending my personal and professional lives were separate, I would openly curate and write while recognizing the impact of my children – in part to challenge this stigma, but also to find a better balance between my personal and private existences. This has included writing a presentation that was inspired by trampoline jumping, and doing a curator’s talk in a karaoke bar, in which people got up and sang karaoke in response to my words.

My newest project was inspired by a statement made by my 8 year old. I live beside a military base called Shilo. Presently 700 soldiers from here are in Afghanistan, giving this war a huge presence in my life and that of my family’s – neighbours have died there, and we have friends who are there now. As everyone in our community is in survival mode, the opportunities to engage in healthy, critical dialogue are slim. One day Seren announced that she had a solution to war – play Rock, Paper, Scissors to solve problems instead of fighting and killing. At that moment, I realized that my daughter in her young age was contemplating the war in Afghanistan and trying to find a solution. I decided that I wanted to organize an exhibition/project that located artists who were also contemplating war and attempting to find solutions, while engaging communities. The exhibition that is now being developed for Ace Art for Fall 2008 is called Rock, Paper, Scissors. My daughter considers this her exhibition, and I’m excited that it will give her an opportunity to be exposed to multiple positions and opinions about war. It will also give me a chance to explore my local community that is made up of primarily military families.

As a freelance curator living in rural Manitoba, there are many challenges that arise. I’ve had to work really hard to have any presence, as it is easy to forget those of us who aren’t urban dwellers. Finding few like-minded people in my neighbourhood creates isolation, as nobody can relate to the joys and woes of curating. I still haven’t curated a show outside of Manitoba, which I’m hoping to do at some point in the next few years! At times, I get frustrated with Eurocentric ideologies I encounter, and crab in the bucket syndrome. Despite all this, I feel it is a huge privilege to work with the incredible artists and communities I do. It’s all worth every struggle that comes my way. My mind and heart would be empty if I had settled for something else, and my children would not have access to the creative minds they do. For this, I say marci to all who have been my art peeps over the years.

Marci, Cathy Mattes