Ruth Cuthand, Living Post-Oka Kind of Woman, 1990, graphite on paper. Collection of the MacKenzie Art Gallery.
About the Artwork
Cuthand has embraced her Indigenous culture in her art, and many of her early works were paintings of clothing related to Indigenous stories and traditions. After completing that series of work, she decided to take up the challenge of drawing. This work was produced in 1990 as a reaction to the news stories featuring the Indigenous act of resistance at the Mohawk community of Kanehsatake, northeast of Montreal, near the village of Oka in Quebec.
The Indigenous peoples objected to the expansion of a golf course onto a traditional ancient Indigenous burial site. The governments of the day reacted with a total disregard for the Indigenous claims and sent in the army to control the uprising. After a 78-day armed standoff the crisis was ended. The land claim was to be resolved before the snow flew that year, however, it took much longer. The Oka crisis created “a new urgency to resolve land claims more quickly and peacefully” for government leaders in Canada. (Foss, undated)
About the Artist
Ruth Cuthand is a Saskatoon-based artist who has a national reputation for her politically engaged work, through which she explores themes of racism, colonialism, tradition, identity, and disease. Cuthand was born in 1954 in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan of Plains Cree, Scottish, and Irish ancestry. She holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts (1983) and Master of Fine Arts (1992) from the University of Saskatchewan (Saskatoon, SK). Cuthand’s work has been exhibited in numerous group exhibitions, including: MASS MoCA’s (North Adams, MA, USA) 2012 travelling exhibition Oh, Canada. In 2011, the Mendel Art Gallery (now Remai Modern) organized a nationally touring retrospective of her work titled BACK TALK: Ruth Cuthand (works 1983–2009), which was accompanied by a bilingual (Cree/English) catalogue. Other significant solo exhibitions include: Don’t Breathe, Don’t Drink (dc3 Art Projects, Edmonton, 2016), Dis-Ease (Red Shift Gallery, Saskatoon, 2010) and Location/Dislocation (Mendel Art Gallery, Saskatoon, SK, 1993) Her first solo exhibition, Trace of the Ghost Dance, took place at the MacKenzie Art Gallery in 1990-1991. Her work is collected by numerous institutions such as the Canada Council Art Bank, Department of Indian and Northern Affairs, Thunder Bay Art Gallery, and Remai Modern. Cuthand is represented in the MacKenzie Art Gallery permanent collection by nine paintings, one drawing, six beaded textiles, and five mixed media prints. In addition to her art practice, Cuthand was instrumental in developing the Aboriginal Art History courses at the University of Saskatchewan; she also taught art and art history courses at the Saskatoon Campus of the First Nations University of Canada. In 2013, she was awarded the Saskatchewan Lieutenant Governor’s Art Award honouring her achievements and contributions to the arts of Saskatchewan, and in 2015 the College of Arts and Science at the University of Saskatchewan named her an Alumni of Influence. Most recently, in 2020, she received a Governor General’s Award in Media and Visual Arts.
Things to Think About
- Living Post-Oka Kind of Woman clearly raises some of the concerns and issues that Cuthand feels need to be addressed. What does she want her audience to learn or contemplate?
- Cuthand states “No stereotypes here”. Is this so? Prejudice is a pre-formed opinion, based on insufficient knowledge, irrational feelings or inaccuracy of information, and stereotypes and causes disadvantage or harm to somebody or something. Does Cuthand refer to prejudice and racism in this work? How so?
- At the time of the Oka Crisis, Brian Mulroney, the governing Prime Minister said, “There is no racism in Canada, just an underlying bitterness.” Discuss this statement in relation to Cuthand’s work. Do you agree there is no racism in Canada? Can you find examples of racism in your own community? Discuss sarcasm and satire and how Cuthand uses these in her work.
- Some artists use humor and simplified cartoon images to make strong political statements. Discuss situations in the news or in your community where artists have been challenged for their representations.
Post your artwork online using the hashtag #studiosundaysyqr!
Ruth Cuthand’s Living Post-Oka Kind of Woman is a comment on a specific event reported in the news. Read your local paper and make an artwork around an event that has occurred.
CREATE YOUR OWN ARTWORK
What you Need:
- Reliable news source
- Drawing utensils
- Clay (opt.)
- Paint (opt.)
- Brushes (opt.)
What you Do:
- Find and read the newspaper for your community.
- Pick an article or story that you can create an artwork about. Discuss the main themes in the article and think about why this article stands out to you. How can your artwork reflect your feelings about current events? How can you explore different viewpoints in your artwork?
- This artwork can be done in many different forms such as drawing, painting, modelling clay, nature items, etc. We encourage you to use drawing as a tool, the way Ruth Cuthand did. Consider the option of using text on your drawing to ask questions or reinforce ideas.