Teharihulen Michel Savard
Parure - Ontatia’tahchondia’tha
Curated by Hannah Claus
May 8, 2021 - June 26, 2021
Watch the exhibition walkthrough here
Watch the artist-curator conversation here
The objects are delicate, finely crafted, and are a mix of old and new. Copper and silver metals come together in varying shapes; metal marks meet organic forms to construct lines and patterns. The disparate components mingle fluidly one into the other to offer an alternate way of seeing and understanding - as they always have, and as they always will. They speak to the continuance of culture outside of western categorical norms. What is art? What is beauty? At first we had shells, bones, hair and quills, and then beads, tin and silver. Now motherboards, circuitry and cables. As cultures collide, they leave a miscible residue of the impact, which adds itself to the whole. Let us assimilate all that is shiny and new, so that we may present ourselves in our finery to the world and so honour the worlds around us.
The idea behind the concept of adornment is to both augment the visual finishing of the outfit and display the value of one’s worth. Sartorial decoration and ornament for Indigenous peoples transmit the mastery of technique and ideals of beauty in order to honour the object itself. However, these are also meant to communicate. Compositional elements signify ontology, specificity of place, kinships with the two-legged and four-legged. The turtle, an eponymous symbol for Eastern woodlands nations, indicates clan and worldview all at once. We live and walk on the back of the great turtle, which organizes the footsteps and rhythms of our lives. This image displays our connection to the ground and the memory beneath our feet. Other symbols originally of European origin are anchored in the Wendat visual language: Scottish hearts become owls and circular gorgets are the stars and sun. These adornments come together to elevate the wearer and speak of where we are from and where we are going. Teharihulan integrates the culture and the experience of the Wendat into each of the pieces. The assemblage of various materials evoke an additional aspect of a spatial fluidity. Worlds of nature, of minerals, of plastic, from the Lower World to the Upper World, come together to bring the past and future into the present. Collectively they shine like a constellation, showing us the path to follow. This is how it has always been. This is how it continues.
The process of making connects us to the ancestors, family histories and time.
Teharihulen is Wendat from Wendake who draws on the past to bring it into the present and from there, imagines the future. He is the first to carry this name in 150 years since the last Teharihulen bore it. This ancestor was an artist, a jewellery-maker, a snowshoe maker, a war chief and a painter. Through his self-portraits, he took back his image from Western romantic clichés and “the Last of” to show his people and his culture in power and autonomy to the Western world, utilizing the tools and visual language of the European arts. In the exhibition, Parure, the painted portraits become a means of dialogue between the two Teharihulan, both artists, warriors and Wendat. Through his artistic practice, Teharihulen carries the mantle of his predecessor, continuing to communicate the presence and self-determination of the Wendat. It is both a responsibility and a legacy.
Hannah Claus is a Kanienkehá:ka and English visual artist who explores Onkwehonwe epistemologies as living transversal relationships. A 2019 Eiteljorg fellow and 2020 Prix Giverny recipient, she sits on the board of the Conseil des arts de Montréal (2018 - ) and is a co-founder of daphne, a new Indigenous artist-run centre in Montreal. In 2017 Claus curated Tehatikonhsatatie, an exhibition of Kahnawakeró:non visual artists Babe and Carla Hemlock. As a member of the Aboriginal Curatorial Collective, Claus contributed to the conceptualization and production of the Tiohtià:ke Project (2018): a year-long series of Indigenous curatorial initiatives in and around Montreal. Claus is a member of Kenhtè:ke - Tyendinaga Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte. Having grown up away from her grandfather’s community, she is privileged to live and work in Kanien’kehá:ka territory, in Tiohtià:ke [Montreal].