Edward Poitras’ Blanket relates the physical communication of pathogens, like smallpox, to the digital communication of information via the internet. The work, which features the complete genetic code for a particular strain of the smallpox virus, was originally developed as a digital file that was intended to be spread “virally” over the internet. Poitras later created a digital print of the file on a sheet of paper the dimension of a small blanket. Through this gesture, Poitras recalls the intentional spread of disease by European colonizers through the “gift” of smallpox-infected blankets to Indigenous people (see Robert Houle’s Palisade I in this exhibition for an example of this practice). At the same time, the work asks us to consider how communication technologies, which “blanket” the world today, virulently replicate codes of racial violence with even greater efficiency.
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. His studied in the Indian Art Program at the Saskatchewan Indigenous Cultural Centre, Saskatoon, under the direction of Sarain Stump (1974) and 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 the University of Manitoba. Poitras was the first Indigenous artist to represent Canada at the prestigious Venice Biennale (Venice, Italy, 1995). His solo exhibitions include: Horses Fly Too: Bob Boyer/Edward Poitras (MacKenzie Art Gallery, 1984), Indian Territory (Mendel Art Gallery, 1988), Marginal Recession (Dunlop Art Gallery, 1991), JAW REZ (Canadian Museum of Civilization, 1996), and 13 Coyotes (MacKenzie Art Gallery, 2012). Major group exhibitions include: New Work by a New Generation (MacKenzie Art Gallery, 1982), Canadian Biennial of Contemporary Art (National Gallery of Canada, 1989), IV Biennal of Havana (Havana, Cuba, 1991), INDIGENA: Perspectives of Indigenous Peoples on 500 Years (Canadian Museum of Civilization, 1992), The Post-Colonial Landscape (Mendel Art Gallery, 1993), Lost Homelands: Manuel Pina, Edward Poitras, Jorma Puranen, Jin-me Yoon (Confederation Centre Art Gallery and Kamloops Art Gallery, 1999-2000), Qu’Appelle: Tales of Two Valleys (Mendel Art Gallery, 2002), and Border Zones: New Art Across Cultures (Audain Gallery, Vancouver, 2010). His work can be found in the collections of the Agnes Etherington Art Centre, Canadian Museum of History, National Gallery of Canada, Remai Modern, Thunder Bay Art Gallery, and Saskatchewan Arts Board, He is represented in the MacKenzie collection by six sculptures, one painting, one installation and two prints. In 2002 he was one of the inaugural recipients of the Governor General’s Award in Visual and Media Arts.