Morgan Wood, "Hands Off My Genes", 1997. Denim jeans, porcupine quills, glue, gut line, thread. Collection of the MacKenzie Art Gallery, purchased with the support of the Canada Council for the Arts Acquisition Assistance Program.

About the Artwork

With her roots in First Nations ancestry and culture, Wood has been influenced by traditional Indigenous art and materials in the making of the sculpture Hands Off My Genes. Porcupine quills were traditionally softened and dyed and woven into leather or birch bark. Quill embroidery was extensively used to decorate war shirts, medicine bags, moccasins and baskets. When seed beads were introduced, they became more popular than porcupine quills because they are easier to use and maintain.  

The title, Hands Off My Genes, contains a play on words. In the tradition of the Surrealists and the Dadaists, Morgan Wood’s artwork is not unlike the fur-covered teacup, spoon and saucer assemblage created by Meret Oppenheim or the urinal sculpture selected by Marcel Duchamp, titled Fountain and signed R. Mutt. While Wood presents an image of unwelcoming blue ‘jeans’ in the sculpture, her title leads us to think about ‘genes’, the basic units of heredity passed down from one generation to the next. According to Morgan Wood, this work was produced as a strong reaction to a CBC documentary. In the documentary, the discussion was centered around the cloning of Indigenous genes and their consequent sale on the black market. She likened these events to the lack of control her grandparents experienced when they lost their land. Her anger led to the creation of this work as a means of voicing her concerns. 

About the Artist

Morgan Wood is an artist, writer, teacher, arts activist, and curator.  Her work in these areas has been strongly influenced by her Indigenous ancestry and culture. She is a non-status Stony Mountain Cree woman and was born in Southern Saskatchewan. Her family originates from the Michel Callihou Band in Alberta and her Great Grandmother was Victoria Callihou, an important figure in the early history of the prairies. 

Wood earned a Bachelor of Indian Art from the Saskatchewan Indian Federated College (now the First Nations University of Canada) at the University of Regina in Saskatchewan, and subsequently has been involved in many workshops and special studies. In 2007 she wrote a book entitled The Other Group of Seven. Outside of her art practices, she has several other interests and skills including promoting the preservation of the environment, cross cultural training, counselling, welding, hide tanning and quill work. 

Besides her participation in numerous studio activities, Wood has been involved with galleries, curating exhibitions for several years. In 1997 she curated a show for the Dunlop Art Gallery in Regina entitled Here and Now, and in 1999 she co-curated with Lee-Ann Martin a major exhibition at the MacKenzie Art Gallery in Regina, Saskatchewan called Exposed: Aesthetics of Aboriginal Erotic Art. In addition, Wood participated in the Aboriginal Curatorial Residency in 2003 at the Mendel Art Gallery in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, and while there she wrote Wildfire on the Plains: Contemporary Saskatchewan Art and Projects and Partnerships for Mendel Art Gallery publications. 

Things to Think About

  • Why do you think Morgan Wood used the materials she used to get her message across? What message do you think she is saying? 
  • Wood uses a material from a traditional Indigenous art form and mixes it with contemporary clothing in this mixed media sculpture.  Why do you think she has made the juxtaposition? 
  • The title of the work by Wood, Hands Off My Genes, is a pun. What are some other examples of puns being used to communicate messages? 
  • How much of our personalities are determined by heredity and how much are determined by our environments? 

Post your artwork online using the hashtag #studiosundaysyqr!

Studio Activity

CREATE AN ARTWORK INSPIRED BY CREE WORDS FOR NATURE

Using the list provided of traditional Cree language words, design and create an artwork that represents the meaning of the word 

What you Need:

  • Writing/drawing utensils 
  • Canvas, paper, or something to create on 
  • An outdoor space to create in  

What you Do:

  • Choose a word from this list to create an artwork 

Aýapâhtikoskâw – Trees 
there are plenty of trees, trees are abundant 

manitowan – Nature
it is spiritual; it is of spirit nature, it is the expression of spirit power 

âtaýôhkan – Animals 
spirit being, spirit power, spirit guardian, spirit animal; legendary figure 

mâmawi-okâwîmâw  
Mother Earth; Earth (planet) 

Kiyâmêwan – peaceful 
it is a quiet, peaceful area 

Kisiskâciwan – Saskatchewan  

Or use Plains Cree Dictionary to find more words 

  • Get a piece of paper or a canvas to create with and go outside to observe your surroundings. 
  • Create an artwork around that word.