A collection of photographs that challenges cultural stereotypes of Indigenous people of Canada.
Canadian First Nations artist Adams has personally witnessed the stigma and ignorance that her country’s Indigenous people face daily. During her long, successful career, she’s worked in a wide variety of different media, including video, paint, ceramics, and beads. But in this anti-racism project, she felt that no other medium but photography could capture the raw, intense emotions that played across her First Nations subjects’ faces. By placing two stark, black-and white photos of each subject side by side, Adams effectively forces viewers to reconsider their assumptions, resulting in powerful shifts in perception. In the first photo, the subject was told to pose how they believe other people perceive them, and in the second, they presented themselves how they wanted to be seen. For example, readers see a portrait of a serious-looking woman, and, above her, are the words “Welfare Mom?” Then, just below that term, readers are reminded to “look again.” The second image shows the same woman, radiant and smiling, with words that describe who she is, including “Mother,” “poet,” “activist,” and “Bannock Lady” (bannock is a kind of quick bread). Each subject described themselves in their own words, which offers readers striking insights into their lives. The art project was so successful that, in 2015, a campaign was launched to stage the portraits across Winnipeg, Manitoba; the faces were then seen on buses and billboards across the city. In this beautifully understated collection, the images are preserved in book form, which readers may use as a tool to combat discrimination. In the foreword, Canadian poet Katherena Vermette, who is of Métis descent, sums up the book’s spirit: “it’s about looking again, looking deeper, and to me, it’s also about kindness.” Indeed, the potential lasting impact of this collection can’t be underestimated; this is socially engaged art at its best.
A simple but persuasive presentation that encourages thoughtful reflection.