Winnipeg artists' collective nominated for $100,000 national prize
The Ephemerals have been exploring perceptions of Indigenous identity for close to a decade
A Winnipeg-based group is on the long list to win a prestigious award for emerging contemporary artists in Canada.
The Ephemerals — a collective made up of artists Jaimie Isaac, Niki Little and Jenny Western — were nominated for the 2019 Sobey Art Award this week. The award is open to Canadian artists 40 and under.
The winner receives a $100,000 prize, which was doubled in 2018 from the usual $50,000. Each long-listed artist receives a $2,000 award, and four finalists from the list will receive $25,000.
The Ephemerals have collaborated to explore perceptions of Indigenous identity for close to a decade.
"We were pleasantly surprised," said Isaac, who is also the curator of Indigenous and contemporary art at the Winnipeg Art Gallery.
Group's new film explores motherhood, language
One of the collective's latest works touches on an experience they said impacted their lives and their art: In 2012, Isaac, Little and Western each became a mother for the first time.
"Motherhood really changes everything in a lot of ways," said Isaac.
The film, titled After Birth, sees elder Mary Courchene offer a teaching in the ceremony of burying the placenta.
"It was nice to be able to talk about those ideas in terms of Indigenous motherhood and what feminism looks like when you're also bringing other people into the world," said Isaac.
It's also narrated completely in the Anishnaabegmowin language and was not translated into English, which Isaac said was a conscious decision.
"We didn't want to translate it, because there's a sort of act of refusal in terms of it being a bit of a coded language for Anishnaabegmowin speakers," she said.
But the choice wasn't one that came easily, Little said.
"For a long time, we really had to think through how we wanted to work with this idea," she said.
"Because of the content, and because it has to do [with ideas] around ceremony and around gifting a teaching."
The decision also allowed the group to explore how colonization severed many Indigenous peoples from their languages — and the importance of reviving them.
"That really ripped those generations apart through generations not learning their language," Isaac said.
"And so we talk about that intergenerational exchange, and how we're then teaching our kids."
Indigenous voices in art are amplified, but barriers remain
Over the past few years, Indigenous artists have seen more representation in galleries and institutions across the country, Little said.
"We see now more Indigenous women in positions of power," she said.
"You have more access and more opportunity for change in terms of really working within institutions for representation."
Isaac listed examples of women holding these positions in Canada, including Wanda Nanibush at the Art Gallery of Ontario, Michelle LaVallee at the Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada Indigenous Art Centre, Linda Grussani at the Canadian Museum of History and Rhéanne Chartrand at the McMaster Museum of Art.
But she said there is work to do to make sure this progress continues, and to make sure the barriers that still exist are broken down. For example, Isaac said, Indigenous artists are often underrepresented in art publications and solo shows.
"Even though we're at this kind of moment of being seen and heard, I think that the momentum has to be there," Isaac said.
"I'm really anticipating and hoping that representation of contemporary Indigenous artists will stay, and that it's not a trend."