The history of Indigenous Peoples performing cultural dances and practices for international and colonial audiences is an important part of Indigenous art generally, and performance art specifically. The Indigenous performers known as ‘Indians’ faced the conundrum of maintaining traditional cultural practices by performing them on stage while also having that performance fulfill the desires of a colonial imaginary. In Sovereign Acts, the artists Rebecca Belmore, Lori Blondeau, Dayna Danger, James Luna, Shelley Niro, Adrian Stimson, and Jeff Thomas, contend with the legacy of colonial representations. Drawing on the depiction of the imaginary Indian–the ahistorical, pre-contact ‘primitivism’ in popular and mass culture–they recover and construct new ways of performing the complexity of Indigenous cultures for a contemporary art audience. Their work returns to the multi-leveled history of ‘Performing Indian’ to recuperate the erased and objectified performer as an ancestor, an artist, and an Indigenous subject.
Organized and circulated by the Art Museum at the University of Toronto, with the support of the Leonard and Bina Ellen Art Gallery.
Photography: Scott Lee