Challenging the ideology of representation: Contemporary First Nations art in Canada

Mary Aski-piyesiwiskwew Longman
Dept. of Curriculum and Instruction, University of Victoria
August, 2006
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Since colonial contact in North America in 1492, First Nations identity,
history and culture has been displaced, erased and fictionalized by dominant
colonial representations. The long history of dominance of these
representations has embedded them in the consciousness of both the colonizers
and the colonized, and effectively suppressed and controlled First Nations
history, culture and identity. This dissertation examines how First Nations
artists have resisted and critically analyzed the representation of their
identity, history, and culture from the 1970s until today. Four key themes that
First Nations artists have identified in the past forty years are stereotypical
representations, exclusion of representation, western framing of
representation, and the appropriation of representation.

The research in the study employs a new method titled Ab/Originography , that
is an analysis of literary, narrative and artistic accounts that come directly
from the 'original' source. This approach is grounded in a post-colonial
analytic methodology that explores the Eurocentric ideological underpinnings of
representations of First Nations covering the period of colonial contact up
until today. As a researcher, I propose that deconstruction and reconstruction
must come directly from the First Nations voice, and epistemological framework
in order to give balance and validity to First Nations representation.

To that end, forty artworks are reviewed in this text with interviews of six
First Nations artists. As well, I also include my own narrative, chronicling of
art production in relation to my lived experience as a First Nations artist.

The overall aim of this research is to raise public awareness about the
predominant role of colonial ideology in the representation of First Nations
peoples so that distorted constructions, habitual recycling and western
ideological projections will diminish. Ultimately, this deconstructive process
provides a new space in the literary canon for the reconstruction of First
Nations representation by First Nations people, especially as it pertains to
First Nations art. This body of research is intended ultimately to contribute
to a profound cultural and political transformation in the perception and
representation of First Nations. Through this deconstruction of representation
and the revealing of issues relevant to First Nations and First Nations artists
in Canada, a foundation has been laid to rewrite art history from the First
Nations perspective.