Edward Poitras is a painter, sculptor, photographer, set designer, and performance artist, who has been included in numerous major exhibitions of contemporary Indigenous art since 1980. Born in Regina, Poitras is a member of the Gordon First Nation, where he currently lives and works. He studied in the Indian Art Program at the Saskatchewan Indigenous Cultural Centre, Saskatoon, under the direction of Sarain Stump (1974) and in the art program at Manitou College, La Macaza, Québec, led by Domingo Cisneros (1976). Poitras taught at the Saskatchewan Indian Federated College (now First Nations University of Canada) and at the University of Manitoba. Poitras was the first Indigenous artist to represent Canada at the prestigious Venice Biennale (Venice, Italy, 1995). His work can be found in the collections of the Agnes Etherington Art Centre, the Canadian Museum of History, the National Gallery of Canada, Remai Modern, the Thunder Bay Art Gallery, and the Saskatchewan Arts Board. In 2002 he was a recipient of the Governor General’s Award in Visual and Media Arts.
Rock Heart (1994) was part of Poitras’s installation in the Canadian Pavilion at the Venice Biennale in 1995. Poitras created this work in memory of his mentor and teacher Sarain Stump—an Italian artist who was born and grew up in Venice and was adopted into a Plains Cree family from Sweet Grass First Nation. Stump was a major influence on a generation of Indigenous artists from Saskatchewan. During the last four years of his life, from 1970 to 1974, Stump led the Saskatchewan Indian Cultural College’s Indart program, training artists such as Harry Lafond, Raymond McCallum, and Poitras. Stump tragically drowned in Mexico in December 1974 under unclear circumstances. To make room for his final resting place, a large stone was unearthed on the Sweet Grass First Nation, and this rock was subsequently used to mark his grave. Rock Heart is Poitras’s tribute to Stump’s legacy and influence on the history of Indigenous art in the Plains.
More than just a memorial or epitaph, Rock Heart reflects the complexity and mystery that surrounds conversations regarding Stump’s origins and identity. Despite the uncertainty surrounding Stump’s conflicting claims of Indigenous identity, his impact on Indigenous art in Saskatchewan is undeniable. In the photograph, Poitras honours Stump’s lasting connection to this territory with this excavated glacial erratic. And for an artist born in Venice, a memorial rock planted in the heart of Turtle island embodies movements of bodies across territories, among identity, and between relations.
Rock Heart is the first photograph by Poitras to enter the MacKenzie’s collection, where it joins nine works by the artist, including four large bronze sculptures that were part of the Venice installation.
MacKenzie Curatorial Team