All images are from Plain(s) Warrior Artist, 1999 to 2006, Giclée (Digital Inkjet) prints 34” x 46” on watercolor paper paper: 118.3 (h) x 86.8 (w) cm; image: 82.7 x 76.2 cm each.
My quest to find my place in the world has taken me many places physically, intellectually and spiritually. My work comes from a culmination of searching for a way to comment on the worlds that I live in, investigating issues of personal and cultural identities. The images from Plain(s) Warrior Artist depict my struggle to find my place in the world and provide sources to explore my questioning of cultural constructs.
In earlier work Longing and Not Belonging (1997-99) I explored the similarities between the family photo album and the ledger art of the plains warrior artist at the turn of the nineteenth century that acted as a record of the exploits and history of the maker. This work also explored the realization of the heroes in my life, strong women… my mother, my sisters, my aunts and my grandmothers. I placed images of these women with warrior women from popular culture that in turn highlighted their quiet heroism. In this work I had turned to family snapshots in hopes that by re-visiting my early years that I would discover visual evidence, clues to explain the shaping of my identity and to better situate myself as a contemporary native woman.
The images from Plain(s) Warrior Artist series depict this continuing struggle to find my place in the world only a shift has occurred, instead of looking outside for a hero, I become one. I had always been searching for a hero and found one in the television character of Xena Warrior Princess. My work has always been diaristic and serial in nature and I took this a step further and situated my character within the context of Plains Ledger art that chronicled the lives of Plain(s) Warrior Artist. I fashioned my character based upon my fictional hero and the Plain(s) Warrior Artist was born and set out on many adventures.
There is nothing better for working out ideas of identity than leaving home and being placed in the uncomfortable role ofambassador of your people in a foreign land. In “I searched many worlds”, Plain(s) Warrior Artist speaks about the summer spent in Tawain while exhibiting Longing and Not Belonging. During this same summer Star Wars introduced Queen Amadala a heroine fighting for her people. I saw this summer release with a four year old of mixed Asian and Canadian descent and reflected upon my own searching for identity and role models that have been a constant in my work for some time now. While in Tawain I was seen as, for a small moment in time, the spokesperson for all Aboriginal people in Canada and as such was called upon to commodify or package my identity.
In one of my adventures, “I awoke to find my spirit had returned” (1999), the desire to go home is always present while questioning where home is. In this work, I connect this history, which is both personal and cultural, to the character Xena Warrior Princess, Dorothy in the classic story of Wizard of Oz and Louis Riel. Riel is often quoted (including in my work) “my people will sleep for one hundred years and when they awake it will be the artist that gives them their spirit back…” Riel as prophet or Wizard of Oz telling us that everything that we need is right inside of us, that all roads lead to home, that being true to our people is the way to recovering our pride, self respect.
Although the image “Navigating by Our Grandmothers” (2001) was a lonely voice in the second season of Plain(s) Warrior Artist, it opened up my parameters and took me back to the familiar, my family. As a means to understand my position as a contemporary aboriginal woman, I found inspiration in the lives of my grandmothers, particularly my aboriginal grandmother who I regard as a role model because she maintained both pride in her Métis roots, and enthusiasm for modern life. In addition, at this point a search for those things sacred or spiritual developed, such as seen in the Woodland inspired image “Hollywoodland Shaman” (2003). Another spiritual work, “Searching for my Mother” (2003) includes a depiction of the Mohawk Saint Kateri, as well as my mother as the Virgin Mother.
Other new work draws upon a number of religions and beliefs, in particular Buddhism. In addition, I look back even more deeply into my family history as a way to better understand these spiritual issues. “Passages” (2005) is a quiet piece and depicts the landscape of my Métis homeland. The abalone shell alludes to aboriginal spiritual practices and the incense sticks to Buddhist prayer rituals of remembrance. In “My Father’s Hands” (2005) and “My Turtle Island” (2005), I use aspects of both Christian and aboriginal spiritual practices and beliefs to express my mixed heritage background. These works are very much about grieving and loss. But, they are also about my realization to treasure and hold on more strongly to my familial roots and heritage.
The Plain(s) Warrior Artist takes many incarnations. In “The Collector” (2005), I insert myself into a painting by the American Victorian collector Charles Wilson Peale. The original painting links natural history and museum practices that included collecting aboriginal peoples and artifacts. In order to disrupt this colonial view, I insert aspects of my cultural heritage into the work. Images taken from my family album appear as a way to emphasize personal acts of collecting, such as occurs in family albums, my own family history and my search for my Métis roots. The work is also a statement about aboriginal peoples claiming the right to exhibit their own culture and history. In “They Went Exploring” (2005), I depict myself as a modern explorer in the context of the Columbus “discovery.” I see aboriginal peoples as engaged in many new explorations, and entering into territories that will prove challenging to us.
The Plain(s) Warrior Artist is an on-going project. I first produced work for this series for a solo exhibition at the Winnipeg Art Gallery entitled Rosalie Favell: I Searched Many Worlds (2003) and am still carrying on. Although it is not an exhaustive search of the universe it is a culmination of many years and many more queries into what is now painfully apparent to me to be a never-ending search for self.