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"If This Is What You Call Being ‘Civilized’, I’d Rather Go Back to ‘Being a Savage’"
Judy Chartrand, "If This Is What You Call Being ‘Civilized’, I’d Rather Go Back to ‘Being a Savage’" The Astoria Hotel, 1997, low-fire clay, underglaze and glaze lustre, 4” x 11”.
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"Enlightenment Brand - Pure White Lard"
Judy Chartrand, "Enlightenment Brand - Pure White Lard," 2002, slip-cast low-fired clay, underglaze, lustre, 7" x 6".
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Judy Chartrand, "Judy’s Secret," 2002, chamois, glass beads, velvet, wood and Plexiglas, 4’ x 3’.
Judy Chartrand 1999 - 2013
AKA Gallery, Saskatoon
July 7 to July 20, 2013
By Lissa Robinson
This recent survey of Cree artist Judy Chartrand’s work serves up an eloquent bowl of satire, highlighting the artist’s skilful blending of pop culture with contemporary and traditional arts to address issues of racism and cultural stereotyping. Along with Chartrand’s masterful ceramic and textile pieces are three digital works (two light boxes and a billboard) that exemplify her more recent foray into digital collage.
Chartrand specializes in traditional forms such as beading, porcupine-quill work, caribou hair tufting and moose-hair link work. Originally self taught, she studied fine arts at Langara College in Vancouver, then earned a BFA at what is now the Emily Carr University of Art and Design and a Master’s degree in ceramics at the University of Regina. As curator Mary Longman fluently highlights, Chartrand’s works are masterfully crafted and laced with political and social satire. Her objects unabashedly force viewers to confront colonial attitudes and racism in Canadian culture through provocative commentary that’s both humourous and poignant.
In her ceramic bowl series, If This Is What You Call Being ‘Civilized', I'd Rather Go Back to ‘Being a Savage', Chartrand confronts conditions of life and death in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside, where she was raised. Infested with under-glazed cockroaches and hotel insignias, the interiors are set in bold contrast to subtler undersides stamped with syringes, liquor bottles and phrases (e.g. “We mourn.”) Embellished by sardonic humour, the bowls are also emblematic of consumerism and an urban culture rife with racism and social injustice.
Among the more overtly political works are simulated lard tins and spray cans that use advertising to confront stereotypes. In 1999, Chartrand became interested in the use of Indian stereotypes on tin products from the 19th and 20th centuries. Her Lard Pail and Lysol series expose and resist racist sentiments, pointing to their vulgarity and detrimental effects. Both series, meticulously replicated in ceramic, are hand glazed with comical custom labels that are a both a witty nod to Warhol’s use of pop culture and a biting critique of white supremacy – for instance, her play with “pure white lard” and Native Spirituality in a Can. Another piece, Homage to Elwood Friday, refers to the case of an aboriginal man who was humiliated by a Regina security guard as he tried to buy a can of Lysol.
In contrast to these consumer objects, Chartrand’s series of bras and panties (Judy’s Secrets) and men’s thongs (Buffalo Soldiers) are constructed from Canadian Tire chamois and decorated with traditional beading and porcupine-quill floral designs. Although subtler, these tongue-in-cheek textiles pay homage to traditional art practices while critiquing the inappropriate display, collection and commodification of indigenous cultural production.
Beyond the obvious craft, the ingenuity of Chartrand’s art is her ability to use sardonic humour as she repatriates such commodified images, poignantly addressing issues of injustice and institutional racism, both historical and contemporary.