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Daphne Odjig : Pow Wow at Wikwemikong
Daphne Odjig
Pow Wow at Wikwemikong
Marie Lugli, April 20, 2015
So groundbreaking was her work in the 60s and 70s, fellow artist and friend Norval Morrisseau called her “Picasso’s grandmother.” While Daphne Odjig’s work does embrace Cubism at times, as can be seen in L’amour fou, her colourful and playful homage to Picasso, Morrisseau’s tongue-in-cheek nickname for her claims a rich pictorial tradition of colour, line, rhythm and movement that long predates the art of the twentieth century. Today, the National Gallery of Canada (NGC) proudly presents The Drawings and Paintings of Daphne Odjig, the institution’s first solo exhibition by a First Nations female artist.

“Daphne Odjig holds an important place among the great artists of Canada,” said NGC Director, Marc Mayer. “She is respected nationally and internationally as a matriarchal figure who has captured her people’s voice, history and legends in a unique artistic style. We are honoured to be celebrating Daphne Odjig’s impressive career in this in-depth exploration of her work.”


Daphne Odjig 2/Daphne Odjig+Mother Earth Struggling for her life, 1975_Collection of Barbara A. Newton Vedan, Vancouver
Daphne Odjig 2/Daphne Odjig+Mother Earth Struggling for her life, 1975_Collection of Barbara A. Newton Vedan, Vancouver
 
Daphne Odjig’s life and those of her forebears are depicted in stories of migration, flight and endurance. Highlights include: Genocide No. 1 (1971), from the NGC’s collection, a powerful rendering of the battle of Fort Dearborn near Chicago in which Odjig’s great-great-grandfather was a combatant and Roots (1979), a large triptych that depicts the artist’s own story of courage and survival in three stages: the harmonious life she knew on the reserve as a child, the identity crisis she experienced in the city, and the final stages of her life when she found peace in her Aboriginal roots.

Earlier works, such as The Eternal Struggle (1966), illustrate Odjig’s contribution to the Woodland School of Anishnabe painters, while later pieces such as the powerful collage, Thunderbird Woman (1971), start to challenge the dominant conventions of this style and move towards a more fluid and expressive approach.


Daphne Odjig 2/Earth Mother, 1969_Collection of Stan Somerville, Westbank (Colombie-Britannique
Daphne Odjig 2/Earth Mother, 1969_Collection of Stan Somerville, Westbank (Colombie-Britannique
 
Pow Wow at Wikwemikong

The Pow Wow at Wikwemikong, staged despite the objections of the church, heralded the resurgence of Indigenous cultural and artistic production after years of attempted assimilation and repression. For Odjig this event was the central factor in her emergence as an Aboriginal person, as an artist and as an advocate for the education and economic development of her people. It set the stage for the later works that would define her style, such as the large diptych Spiritual Renewal (1984). In this metaphorical painting, Odjig illustrates as a series of processions, the coming of Christian missionaries and the coming of the drummers, and, at the centre of the second panel, the sweet grass ceremony that was the turning point and culmination of the first pow wow.

Tales of the Smokehouse

A collection of erotica unique to the history of Aboriginal painting, these drawings were created for Dr. Herbert Schwarz’s book of the same title, published in 1974.

Our Land

This is Odjig’s homage to the beauty and power of the forest. Some works, such as People of the Forest (1981), convey her response to the clear-cutting of British Columbia’s forests and the pollution and destruction of wildlife habitat that followed.


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