With these 'fashion shoots,' Ursula Johnson is smashing stereotypical images of Indigenous women

"Nobody thinks about [these stereotypes] because it's the Indigenous body who has been pushed aside."

'Nobody thinks about [these stereotypes] because it's the Indigenous body who has been pushed aside'

"Between My Body and Their Words" is Ursula Johnson's commission for the Winnipeg Art Gallery. (CBC Arts)

A little while ago, we told you the story of Ursula Johnson, recent Sobey Prize winner (and artist with an incisive sense of humour). Since then, Johnson installed a series of pieces she created for the Winnipeg Art Gallery's Insurgence/Resurgence exhibition.

Between My Body and Their Words is made of up of four photographs of Johnson, fashion-shoot style, overlaid with quotes from seminal Indigenous artists including Rebecca Belmore, Lori Blondeau, Cheryl L'hirondelle and Shelley Niro.

Watch the video:

Insurgence/Resurgence: Ursula Johnson

5 years ago
Duration 3:47
Ursula Johnson's photoshoot challenges stereotypes about Indigenous women.

Upon first glance, these photos appear to be flashy and glamorous. But pause for a moment and look closer: they're actually taking a sardonic and critical look at the representation of the female Indigenous body in popular culture, from animated movies to contemporary advertising.

(CBC Arts)

The quotes Johnson used on the photos were based on the artists' responses on the topic of the commodification of the Indigenous female body. "Some of the quotes they gave me were from maybe memories they had from conversations with people," says Johnson, "or some of them were their own words of trying to break down those notions of those stereotypes."

(CBC Arts)

"Nobody thinks about that, because it's the Indigenous body that's been pushed aside," she continues. "Unless [they] want to sexualize your body — then [they'll] put you at the forefront."

In this video, you go to Dartmouth to find out why it was important to Johnson to make an artistic move to take apart this misrepresentation of Indigenousness, and why these particular images matter so much to her.

(CBC Arts)

This video is a part of a series profiling artists from the Insurgence/Resurgence exhibit in collaboration with CBC Arts and CBC Indigenous. Check out the other videos here.​

Watch CBC Arts: Exhibitionists online or on CBC Television. Tune in Friday nights at 11:30pm (12am NT) and Sundays at 3:30pm (4pm NT).


Alex Mitchell is a filmmaker, writer and musician from St. Margarets Bay, Nova Scotia. With a background in communications and development, over the last decade he has worked with a collection of film and live event production companies throughout Eastern Canada.