We’re going to bring them back into the community, and we are going to remember them and we’re going to re-sing them and re-dance them.
MUSKRAT was in Montréal for the iakwé:iahre (we remember), in October 2014. Staff writer, Jamaias DaCosta interviewed prolific collaborator and Co-Chair of the ACC, France Trépanier.
Muskrat Magazine: How is you work and vision connected with the ACC?
France Trépanier: I’ve been following the work of the ACC since its creation basically. I think I’ve attended all of the colloquiums except for maybe the first one. As a Kanienke’haka with French ancestry, I was really interested by the work of the ACC. In 2010, I was invited to join the board, and I accepted because I really felt that the Aboriginal artists and curators from Québec—Francophone ones in particular—were really isolated in many ways. They are isolated culturally within Québec, they’re completely absent, completely invisible. A little less now, but a few years ago it was worse. They were absent also from the English-Aboriginal art scene. I joined the board with the hope that we could build bridges, and we could open the circle and welcome these artists into the fold. That’s why this bilingual colloquium in Montréal is so significant for me, because it’s been a long time coming. The idea we started with was to build bridges between the Anglophone and Francophone Aboriginal artists and creators to share our different and common histories.
MM: The theme this year, iakwé:iahre (we remember), was about the archiving of Indigenous art and culture. How is it significant to you?
FT: As a curator I have a personal interest in working with objects that have been taken away from our communities because the settlers thought we were a vanishing race. It kind of gave them permission to just walk into communities and take whatever they felt like taking. A lot of those objects have been shipped to museums around the world. Even when they are respectfully represented they are still totally within a Western frame. I’m interested in talking about those objects, the memory, and activating those objects—that’s part of my curatorial practice right now.
Looking at how contemporary artists engage in this process- we wanted to explore the different facets of this very complex question. The question of the memory of the archive, of the knowledge, of how we share this, how we approach it and respectfully collect, and then preserve, and share.
MM: At the colloquium Collective Think Tank for the Aboriginal Living Art Archive, it was interesting to hear those conversations from participants, looking at things like protocol, or caring for people as they are engaging with work that might trigger them in some ways. For yourself as a curator, what is your own personal process to address those issues in particular?
FT: Respect, first. As a curator, I feel an immense amount of responsibility as I walk these trails, especially when I am working with material that is not from my culture. I have a very collaborative practice as a curator, and as an artist. Personally, my process is about collaboration, it’s about engaging and creating moments of engagement. The project that I am working on right now is called Awakening Memory—and the idea is [to] return objects from the West Coast Kwakwaka’wakw and Coast Salish people—objects that have been taken away from the community and put in museums. We’re going to bring them back into the community, and we are going to remember them and we’re going to re-sing them and re-dance them. A contemporary artist from each one of those communities is taking part in the process.
It’s creating a space so that we can have a conversation between the contemporary art practice and the traditional or more ancient objects. Exploring the agency of the objects for example, the spirit that inhabits the objects that was taken away when [they were] put under a glass case in a museum. I think ’s work speaks to that. I think that Marianne Nicholson’s work speaks to that—I mean there are many artists actually when you start looking at it from that angle, a lot of artists are working in that vein. I think that is why we decided to go with this theme for the colloquium, because we saw on the ground from the communities how much interest there was.
MM: Hearing you talk about the Awakening Memory project led me to think about bringing the work back and connection to ceremony. Will there be ceremony? and How do you work with ceremony and art?
FT: That’s a very good question and it’s a very complex one. You know a few years ago I was doing consultations for a research project and we did some talking circles in which we had a long conversation about traditional and contemporary art practices for Aboriginal artists. And people were debating and it was heated and people had different opinions. There was an Elder that was with us. At the end of this long conversation he said; “well I don’t know why you young people argue so much about this. The truth be told, we’ve always been contemporary, we’ve always adapted, we’ve always transformed, we’ve always integrated new practices and new material.”
In a way we are doing this right now and young people in communities are doing this. It’s a fine line to walk, but it’s the responsibility of the knowledge carriers, and the new ones that will become knowledge carriers to walk that trail together. We live in this reality in this world. I think that Indigenous people in general—but also artists and curators—straddle two worlds all the time and we have to find a respectful place to be. A lot of the conversation today [at the think tank] was about that. How do you bring together the respect, the protocols, and traditions in a medium that is completely technological and is fore grounded in western thinking? How do you bridge this? Huge challenges. We do it carefully, we do it respectfully, and I think that is the only answer you can give.
France Trépanier is a multidisciplinary artist, curator and researcher of Kanien’kéhaka (Mohawk) and québécois ancestry. Her artistic and curatorial work has been presented in Canada and France. Her work is characterized by the use of strategies of collaboration. France worked at the Canada Council for the Arts before becoming a Senior Policy Advisor for the Department of Canadian Heritage. She held a diplomatic post as First Secretary, Cultural Affairs at the Canadian Embassy in Paris and was the founding Director of the Centre for New Media at the Canadian Cultural Centre in Paris. France was also the co-founder and Director of the artist-run center Axe Néo-7 in Gatineau, Quebec. France is co-chair of the Aboriginal Program Council at the Banff Centre. She is the co-recipient of the 2012 Audain Aboriginal Curatorial Fellowship by the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria. France is currently the Vice Chair for the Aboriginal Curatorial Collective.