Catherine Boivin


Curated by Jessie Ray Short

Curated by Jessie Ray Short

In the round – Catherine Boivin by Jessie Ray Short

Catherine Boivin’s work centres on happenings that affect her personally, as an Atikamekw woman and mother living in an Indigenous community in contemporary Quebec.  I listen carefully during our video chats as Catherine tells me about the concepts behind her piece, entitled Nikotwaso. Her baby daughter plays in the background of our meetings or climbs around on Catherine’s lap. Our discussions circle around a variety of topics, including current film and television interests, video art, cultural knowledge from our respective Indigenous communities, the importance of language and teaching Indigenous languages to future generations, and the ongoing gendered violence perpetrated against Indigenous women across Canada.

Catherine remarks how she now feels a weight of responsibility to address these issues, to keep her language and culture alive for her daughter. To keep her daughter alive for her culture and language. These concerns have been and continue to be voiced by Indigenous people. It can be stated that in this country, “a national narrative [has been created and] is based on Indigenous genocide… For far too long there has been an interest in Indigenous cultures but not Indigenous people or their well-being.”[1] There is no culture without the people from whom it stems. For a young woman like Boivin, the issue of murdered and missing Indigenous women is one that continues to haunt her, as is the case for Indigenous peoples nationwide (and no less so in Quebec).[2]

In this exhibition, Catherine and the women who are part of her work, run in circles through the monitors, acknowledging the many layers of being that they each hold within themselves. They run in circles to stay active, for self-care; they run in circles to acknowledge the cycles of life, including seasonal changes; they run in circles to acknowledge the cycles of violence that make them, as Indigenous women, many times more likely than other populations of women in the country to endure violence.

Catherine’s work is, however, nuanced, incorporating, and looking beyond narratives of Indigenous trauma. Talking with Catherine about Nikotwaso, I am struck by the similarities in both the material and conceptual concerns of her work with that of Dana Claxton.  In an artist talk, Claxton notes how her focus on fashion and beauty standards in her work function as a device to question the “aesthetic imperialism” of Eurocentric norms, from within her Hunkpapa Lakota-specific point of view, and “wanting to see the beauty of Indigenous aesthetics.”[3]

Catherine’s work, like Dana’s, does not remove the specific pieces of clothing from how they are meant to be worn, but instead is “folding”[4]cultural elements into the designs. The intention in this is to incorporate historic elements seen in Atikamekw clothing worn by Catherine’s ancestors, such as the belted, checkered-cloth skirts, while also adding design elements inspired by the Icelandic singer Bjork’s eclectic vision.[5]

Nikotwaso is a work of circles and of cycles. It is a work in the round. Catherine brings together the past and the future in the present, looking back to her grandmothers, looking forward to her daughter and future generations while also referencing diverse visual elements, whether they stem from pop culture, film and television, or contemporary and historic Atikamekw cultural aesthetics. Nikotwaso asks the viewer to suspend beliefs, or what you think you know of Indigenous women, and enter into the circles of possibilities created by Catherine Boivin.

Suggested reading:

Bowen, Deanna , and Maya Wilson-Sanchez. "A Centenary of Influence." Canadian Art. (April 20, 2020 2020). Accessed May 25, 202. https://canadianart.ca/features/a-centenary-of-influence-deanna-bowen/.

Ryerson Image Centre. "Artist Talk with Dana Claxton." 1:00:55. youtube.com: Toronto Metropolitan University, 2021. Artist Talk. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zv6qeQTB4Yg.

Quebec-specific Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls report was issued by the commission, which can be found here in english: https://www.mmiwg-ffada.ca/wp-content/uploads/2019/06/Final_Report_Vol_2_Quebec_Report-1.pdf

Et en français: https://www.mmiwg-ffada.ca/wp-content/uploads/2019/06/Rapport-compl%C3%A9mentaire_Qu%C3%A9bec.pdf  

[1] Wilson-Sanchez, Maya.

[2] See the MMIWG reports mentioned in bibliography for specifics

[3] Claxton, Dana.

[4] Claxton, Dana.

[5] Personal Communication with Catherine Boivin, May 6, 2022.

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