Accountability Amidst Uncertainty
Last week, Radio Western sat down to speak with Helen Gregory, the curator of Accountability, an exhibition which opened on March 6th in McIntosh Gallery and was planned to run until April 9th.
Accountability is a solo exhibition by London-based artist and Western Visual Arts alum Kelly Greene. As a Mohawk member of the Six Nations of the Grand River in Ohsweken, Greene chose to focus on the relationship between the environment and the impact of colonization on Canada’s First People.
Unfortunately, amid the current COVID-19 outbreak, all exhibits presented in the Gallery have been closed to the public until further notice. Despite this unfortunate closure, the themes posed in Greene’s artwork are part of an important educational step in recognizing and reconciling with Indigenous peoples.
Accountability references various topics, one being the conditions caused by settlers who enforced their dominance over lands which had already been occupied. The current happenings in Wet’suwet’en territory is a “perpetual disregard and disrespect towards the people who are stewards of the land,” said Greene. Through her exhibit, she asks: who is accountable for the violation of longstanding treaties created to protect the rights of Indigenous people?
Curator Helen Gregory notes that the exhibition’s specific focus on the work of an individual Indigenous artist can be seen as part of a national movement towards recognizing Indigenous artists in museums and art shows.
While the exhibit addresses Canada’s history of colonialism and the ongoing atrocities committed on behalf of the Canadian government, Greene's work is not without humour. Her personality is very much embedded into the exhibit.
“Kelly by her nature is a very, sort of, sweet, charming, upbeat kind of person,” explained Gregory. The humorous elements of the exhibit are, in-part, what makes it easier to walk through as an observer.
Gregory also added extended labels to larger works, to provide visitors with the historical background of Greene’s work. She noted that it was an important step in making the exhibition an accessible and educational experience to those who were not fully aware of Canada’s history with Indigenous people.
Greene, who wasn’t raised with her Indigenous heritage, has spent her adult life learning about her Haudenosaunee identity. When asked about the obstacles she’s encountered throughout her own process of self-discovery, Greene spoke of experiences where she felt inferior to other artists who had been raised in their culture. Her participation in the Indigenous Art Exhibit at the Woodland Cultural Centre for the last 30 years, however, has helped her foster a strong connection with her Indigenous identity.
When asked about the relationship between the environment and colonialism, the key themes of her work, Greene states:
"Colonization brought a people who thought their way of life was civilized above others, who had advanced vessels and weaponry, which combined to manifest in the capitalization and destructive development of the natural landscape and its original inhabitants. Towns and cities were built and industrial and technological advancements were and are continually accelerated without thought of the repercussions from its speed, what’s lost in its wake. Hopefully soon we’ll be able to put the brakes on the machine and restore what we can."
Greene advises that Western University and settler-colonials alike can work in solidarity with Indigenous people by “[donating] in any way possible, whether monetary or sharing information and signing petitions.” She also advocates for the creation of an endowment fund, where proceeds can be divided amongst First Nations groups whose land Western University resides on.
The themes of Accountability extend beyond the physical exhibit. They push us to look at the ways in which we are accountable to Indigenous people, each other, and the environment altogether.