Indigenous archive art exhibit
- Kerry Benjoe | April 25, 2023
Paul Seesequasis is working to reclaim Indigenous images and by doing so, he hopes to uncover and share the untold stories of Indigenous people.
His latest art exhibit called Turning the Lens: Indigenous Archive Project is currently on display at the Mackenzie Art Gallery in Regina until Aug. 27. It is a series of photographs he has gathered and, rather than just have nameless people in the photographs, he has tracked down as much information as he could find and included it.
Seesequasis said the project is all about visual reclamation.
“It’s about celebrating the Indigenous image in photography and paying respect to the hardwork of our ancestors who went through such things as the Indian Act, residential school, the pass system and things like that, but kept the culture alive,” he said. “What we have are photographs taken by photo journalists all dating from the early 1950s to the 1960s.”
Also included in the exhibition are photographs from 1919 depicting chiefs and leaders from Treaty 4.
It is the first time the public has had an opportunity to see the collection of old photographs together.
Seesequasis said visual reclamation is about identifying the people in the images.
“The Indigenous image was always of us but not with us,” he said. “It was always taken, then taken away to a museum or gallery somewhere. The problem with that is it totally separates the image from the community. This project is about bringing those back together.”
Seesequasis said his mother Mary who was an Indian Residential School Survivor is the inspiration behind the project.
“She had made the comment, ‘We are not seeing the other side,’ and she was not talking about residential schools but about family, kinship and community,” he said.
His mother explained how it was family, kinship and culture, which enabled people like herself to survive.
Seesequasis then went out and began searching for the images and collecting them.
“Eventually, I had enough and I began posting them on social media and that’s when it clicked,” he said. “That’s when people started saying, ‘That’s me. That’s my uncle.’ Then you start getting a story about the individual that wasn’t in the institutional record. For instance, the Library of Canada may have had that photo but it didn’t say who the person was it would just say, ‘Indigenous man or what not.’”
The first people to see the new exhibit were Indian Residential School Survivors who attended the Buffalo People’s Art Institute’s Residential School Gathering held at the Mackenzie in early March.
“If the show goes somewhere else after like Winnipeg, it won’t be these photos, it will be something else, something from that area,” said Seesequasis. “So the idea is that every area this show goes to, we will have photos from that area.”
The images on display at the MacKenzie are what he gathered from the Saskatchewan Archives and from the libraries.
“Most of the photos aren’t [identified], but hopefully at the end of this we will have a few more named.”