'I'm not just a First Nations representative. I'm of European ancestry as well' - KC Adams

Winnipeg artist KC Adams uses herself and her aboriginal friends as subjects in her work.

She takes photos that challenge our views about race by juxtaposing race classifications.

For an exhibit that's been running at Neechi Commons in Winnipeg she told us about her five-point criteria in order for her to photograph her subjects:

  1. You have to be First Nations.
  2. You have to be of non-First Nations as well.
  3. You have to be plugged into technology. Technology is important to you. You can't live without it.
  4. You have to be an artist, first and foremost.
  5. You have to be a role model in the community.

The portraits she takes could be on the cover of Vogue magazine.

"The photos are really a mixture of those five criteria. The photographs are photo-shopped to make them look like they are from glamorous magazines," she explained.

"That represents the European idea of glamour and beauty. I incorporate beading and chokers along with stoic looking stances to represent the aboriginal side."

Adams says it originally started as a performance piece.

"I was one of those few First Nations people who are working in art galleries," she said. "So people started making assumptions, wondering what it was like living on a reserve. But I actually grew up on Air Forces bases. My father moved us around. So I didn't have that knowledge of what it was like to be First Nations."

KC Adams

“I'M ON INDIAN TIME” - Cyborg Hybrid David (videographer, new media artist), 2006, digital print (KC Adams)

So she decided to do this performance piece where she'd wear these T-shirts with stereotypes beaded onto the front of the T-shirt. Some of the slogans were:

  • Ask Me About My Sweet Grass
  • Indian Giver
  • Former landowner
  • Half Breed

"These were T-shirts that I wanted people to see and then make a comment," she explained. "What ended up happening was that people were really uncomfortable looking at my chest so that didn't work!"

Adams was at the Banff Centre when she met others going through the same dilemma of not knowing where to fit in. 

"I asked them if they would wear my T-shirts and pose for me. That's where it started."

It also became important for her to claim her European roots. 

"It's about acknowledging my family history and where I came from," she stated. "It's not enough to call myself First Nations. I have to acknowledge where I came from. I want to celebrate that. I'm not just a First Nations representative. I'm of European ancestry as well."

She doesn't even call herself Métis . 

"That comes from the respect for the Métis culture that started here in Manitoba," she emphasized. "I really was at a crossroads. I didn't know how to define myself which is how the Cyborg Hybrids came about."

"Too often people see First Nations people as relegated into the past. I want people to understand that First Nations people are part of the present and the future. You can't just think of them in the past."

Hear KC Adams speak at Neechi Commons, 865 Main St. on Thursday May 29.  Doors open at 6 p.m.