Photo: “Rebirth of a Culture” (1979) by Daphne Odjig.
Daphne Odjig was an Indigenous Canadian artist (Native Art in Canada, 2015).
She was born on the Wiikwemkoong Reserve on Manitoulin Island in Ontario (Korp, 1998). Daphne was an advocate for Indigenous artists, women, and children (Bailey, 2011). Daphne was recognized in the 1960s for her ink drawings of the Cree people of Northern Manitoba (The Art History Archive, 2007). Daphne expressed concern over losing traditional knowledge and sought to preserve Indigenous ways of living through her ink illustrations (The Art History Archive, 2007). In 1965, Daphne witnessed the poor living conditions of other reserve communities in Canada (Korp, 1993). She was devastated by the systematic and cultural oppression of Indigenous peoples and expressed her grief through her artwork (Korp, 1993). Daphne also began to paint scenes from Manitoulin mythology, and illustrated children’s books based on Ojibwa culture (Native Art in Canada, 2015). Her children’s book illustrations were a direct response to the living conditions she observed on Canadian reserve communities (Korp, 1993). Through her illustrations, she hoped to bring Indigenous ways of living into awareness and educate others about reserve communities (Korp, 1993). Daphne continued to explore colonial history, exclusion, and Indigenous mythology in her paintings and drawings (The Art History Archive, 2007). According to the Inuit Art Centre (2016), Daphne was “a powerful matriarch and force in the Canadian art world… Odjig worked hard to foster and assert the voices of Indigenous artists and provide a space for inclusion and exhibition” (p. 1).
In 1971, Daphne opened Odjig Indian Prints of Canada in Winnipeg (Native Art in Canada, 2015). Later, in 1973, Daphne founded the Professional Native Indian Artists Association. Daphne and the other members of this association were crucial in bringing Indigenous art to the forefront of Canada (The Art History Archive, 2007). Daphne spoke about the Professional Native Indian Artists Association as a group that supported Indigenous artists and challenged oppressive narratives (Native Art in Canada, 2015). This support was vital to Daphne as she was creating art in a time of overt discrimination and oppression from the world of fine arts and broader Western society (Native Art in Canada, 2015). Furthermore, Daphne used this group to address issues of colonization, displacement, and Indigenous political issues (Bailey, 2011). In 1974, Daphne renamed her art store New Warehouse Gallery. This gallery became the first Canadian gallery owned by an Indigenous person which exclusively displayed Indigenous artworks (The Art History Archive, 2007). This space “enforced an important act of positive resistance of the mainstream canon of art and exclusivity of the art world” (Inuit Art Centre, 2016, p. 1).
Bailey, J. (2011). Firebrand artist: Daphne Odjig. Herizons, 24-28.
Korp, M. (1993). The bad medicine woman and other images of womanhood in the world of Daphne Odjig, RCA. Atlas, 20-32.
The Art History Archive (2007)
Contributed by: Caitlin Scheirich
KEY WORDS: Liberation Arts, Inclusivity, Indigenous-owned Gallery, Positive Resistance