Canadian Aboriginal artist Daphne Odjig has said she is uncomfortable with words, her paintings are her “most honest and legitimate statement.”
If that is so, her paintings are the equivalent of an encyclopedia of Canadian-Aboriginal history and the Penticton Art Gallery is honoured to present the major exhibition of work, 73 pieces, from the Penticton resident.
“This little native girl that grew up on Manitoulin Island (Ontario) that had no facilities and didn’t finish school, she only got to Grade 8 and a half I think because of rheumatic fever. She went on to become the most recognized female artist Canada has ever produced,” said Stewart Turcotte, from Hambleton Gallery in Kelowna that represents Odjig’s work. “I know that is blasphemy in British Columbia because of Emily Carr, but Daphne is know around the world.”
Odjig, now 92-years-old, has had shows in Japan, the United States, across Canada, Yugoslavia, England, Israel and France. The important collection of Odjig’s art from its dynamic, politically-charged roots to the softer, more lyrical forms she is best known for and identified with today are on display at the Penticton Art Gallery until May 13.
Her style has undergone several developments and adaptations from decade to decade and yet always remains identifiable. Mixing traditional Aboriginal styles and imagery with Cubist and Surrealist influences, her work is defined by curving contours, strong outlining, overlapping shapes and an unsurpassed sense of colour. Odjig’s work has addressed issues of colonization, the displacement of Aboriginal peoples and the status of Aboriginal women and children, bringing Aboriginal political issues to the forefront of contemporary art practices and theory.
During a exhibition talk on Saturday at the art gallery, Turcotte said when Odjig returned to Canada from international shows she was commissioned to do a giant piece that was eight feet tall and 27 feet long called The Indian In Transition.
Turcotte compared it to Pablo Picasso’s Guernica. One third of The Indian In Transition shows the Native with all their traditions in tact and a drum with the sun out. The next third shows Christopher Columbus who brought with him disease, books which represent the residential schools and christianity. The drum is now torn and the native is not doing well, said Turcotte, their traditions are not being adhered to. The final third of the painting shows the drum has been repaired, the sun is out again and the Thunderbird of protection is overlooking them.
“Everything optimistically in her eyes will be fine again,” said Turcotte. It is a really beautiful painting and a fantastic piece of work.”
When Picasso died, Odjig and two other artists were commissioned to paint a mural in honour of him. That hangs in the Picasso museum in France.
“They recognized the Picasso-Odjig connection there and thought it was valuable enough to make it part of their show,” said Turcotte.
Odjig has been the recipient of the Order of Canada, Order of British Columbia, seven honourary degrees, a National Aboriginal Achievement Award, Governor General’s Laureate for visual and media arts (Canada’s highest honour in the field of visual arts) and was the only First Nation female artist to show at the National Gallery of Canada.