Sunday February 28, 2016

Cornhusk art reclaimed from craft to fine art

Three Sisters of Leonardo by artist Elizabeth Doxtater.

Three Sisters of Leonardo by artist Elizabeth Doxtater. (Erica Daniels/CBC)

Listen 4:44

Tucked in a strip mall on the Six Nations of the Grand River, is a little store called Everything Cornhusk. It is owned by artist Elizabeth Doxtater who uses the traditional art of cornhusk dolls to create political statements.

"I call it reverse colonialism," Doxtater said.

The Mohawk artist re-created three of Leonardo da Vinci's paintings in the image of a cornhusk doll — Lady with an ErmineUnidentified Woman in a Red Dress and the Mona Lisa.  

Doxtater painted the three images that she calls the Three Sisters of Leonardo in acrylic and set them in an Iroquoian longhouse. The Three Sisters is a reference to the Iroquois method of agriculture where beans, corn and squash are planted together.

"For so long Europeans came to our shores and they tried to claim everything that was ours as their own," said Doxtater.

Cornhusk dolls

Cornhusk dolls by artist Elizabeth Doxtater. (Erica Daniels/CBC)

"So what I am trying to do is the same thing but the opposite. I call it reverse colonialism because I am claiming things for our people," she said.

The legend of the cornhusk doll tells the story of a doll that came to life and visited children of different villages to help entertain them while their parents worked. During those visits, people would always tell her how beautiful she was.

One day the doll saw her reflection in the water and eventually spent more time looking at herself than doing the work she was created to do. So her face was removed.

"It was a reminder to the Haudenosaunee people that true beauty comes from your commitments and fulfilling your commitments to other people and not how you look," Doxtater explained.  

"As our people are healing and we are starting recover and discover and gain that confidence that our ancestors represented we can start filling in those [missing] pieces."