In the early 1900s, Winnipeg had a roaring red-light district and a continent-wide reputation as a centre for “social vice.” Bertram believes that ignoring this past, and the women involved, contributes to an overall devaluation of marginalized women, who are still vulnerable in 21st-century Winnipeg.
—Alison Gillmor, CBC Reviewer
It may be a mugshot, but in the silent power struggle between police photographer and prisoner, this woman is giving as good as she gets. In this fascinating fusion of art and archive now on view at Platform, Lil' Ava is posing for the standard police profile pic but still manages to look chin-up and defiant.
In Pioneer Ladies [of the Evening], curator and historian Laurie Bertram turns the polite, official history of our town upside-down Instead of lionizing the predominantly white, male, middle-class figures who get the bronze plaques and marble statues, Bertram looks at women who lived at the margins of Winnipeg society at the turn of the 20th century.
Ethel Exhibit (Platform Gallery)
The Manitoba-born Bertram, who is currently doing research in Toronto, has started with five photographs from the archives of the Winnipeg Police Museum
. (I'm ashamed to say I didn't even know this place existed. According to Bertram, it's a trove of Winnipeg history, staffed by retired police officers who are passionate about the collection.)
These revealing images show women who have been charged with various offenses: producing obscene photographs, running a bawdy house, assisting escaped felons, and - in the case of one very determined Icelandic immigrant who had been doing laundry in a brothel -- taking a broomstick to a boss who withheld her wages.
Bertram has then created a museological tableau for each woman, using dresses from The Manitoba Museum
, artifacts from the Strathclair Museum
and rugs from Dalnaver
t. She wants to make visible the complex and remarkable lives of women who were, in their own ways, pioneers, struggling to survive in a culture where there were very few routes to female independence.
In the early 1900s, Winnipeg had a roaring red-light district and a continent-wide reputation as a centre for "social vice." Bertram believes that ignoring this past, and the women involved, contributes to an overall devaluation of marginalized women, who are still vulnerable in 21st-century Winnipeg. Without romanticizing the sex trade, Bertram wants to reclaim the hidden histories of these women, "to acknowledge the value of their lives in the past and in the present."
PIONEER LADIES [of the Evening]
Alison Gillmor (CBC)
runs until June 9 at Platform Centre for Photographic + Digital Arts. Dr. Bertram will be giving a curator's talk May 4 at noon as part of First Fridays
in the Exchange.
As well, there will be an opening reception and curatorial tour for the beginning of núna (now)
, 7 p.m. at the Platform Gallery.