Two new exhibits opened this week at the Kootenay Gallery of Art.
Remediating Curtis by Stephen Foster is an installation using video, sound and photo-montage to explore the treatment of indignity by turn-of-the century photographer and ethnographer Edward S. Curtis and the lasting impressions his photographs have left within popular culture to this day.
The installation includes a series of 3-D photographs displayed in back-lit photo boxes of scenes Foster has created using toy figurines that seem to be modeled after Curtis’ photos.
“His [Curtis] main mission was to document the American Indian before they disappeared,” explained Foster. “Being of Indigenous descent myself, the idea of remediating Curtis is kind of a way of taking back that … this idea of a vanishing race.”
Foster has recreated some of Curtis’ images with the toys including The Vanishing Race and an image from a movie still from Curtis’ film In the Land of the Head Hunters.
“Curtis was responding to a romantic image of his day, but it is something that continues today in popular culture.” As an example, Foster gives the scene from In the Land of the Head Hunters that depicts a man dancing around a fire and explains that that image is one that has been recreated countless times in different media forms.
An interactive display featuring photo and video projections and sound allows visitors to remix photos and movie scenes from Curtis with modern movies and sound.
“It’s really about challenging the perceptions around mass-media images of indignity and stereotypes of indignity,” said Foster. “Thinking about there is a history to that imagery, it is not just this one-off thing, it is something that has gone back over a hundred years, a hundred and fifty years — this image of indignity that has been projected onto Indigenous peoples even though they can be quite different and their cultures can be quite convoluted.”
Gallery curator Maggie Shirley was pleased to bring the installation to Castlegar and introduce it to the public.
“It’s time for us to step up and really think about, just what is reconciliation … in the artistic community, we are really taking this seriously,” said Shirley in her opening remarks.
The second exhibition is Class Act: Digital Arts &New Media Students, it features works by students of the digital arts and new media program of Selkirk College. The installation includes 2-D images and a 3-D projection project.
Both exhibitions will be open through Sept. 16. To complement the Foster exhibit, the gallery will host a reading by noted Nisga’a poet, and Griffin Poetry Prize winner Jordan Abel, Aug. 24 at 7 p.m. The reading is free, but donations are gratefully accepted.