1 of 5
"Red Man Descending"
George Littlechild, "Red Man Descending," 2007, mixed media on paper.
2 of 5
"Cross Cultural Examination #2"
George Littlechild, "Cross Cultural Examination #2," 2007, archival digital image.
3 of 5
"Cross Cultural Examination #3"
George Littlechild, "Cross Cultural Examination #3," 2008, archival digital image.
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George Littlechild, "Red Girl," 2003, archival digital image.
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"Cross Cultural Examination #7"
George Littlechild, "Cross Cultural Examination #7," 2007, archival digital image.
GEORGE LITTLECHILD, Red and White Inside Out
Nanaimo Art Gallery
February 20 to March 28, 2009
By Kimberly Croswell
A mini-retrospective of George Littlechild’s work over the last ten years, Red and White Inside Out is a series of works portraying the personal and social ambiguities in “mixed race” identity.
Born in Edmonton of Plains Cree descent, and currently living in Comox, B.C., Littlechild’s artistic explorations range from mixed media and acrylic works to digitally manipulated historical and family photographs. The largest painting, titled The Oppressed and The Oppressor (1998-2008), tells the story of Littlechild’s friend, John Powell, a West Coast artist and costume designer of “mixed” parentage. As the story goes, Powell’s white father did not want him to learn his mother’s Kwagiulth language, and John used to hide under the table in order to listen to his grandparents and the other elders speak.
In the painting, John’s mother, Janet Powell is shown on the top right, and her parents, Henry and Eliza Bell stare down at John, who is the “transforming” horsehuman figure ridden by his father, John Powell Sr, who is starkly outlined in white. Being both horse and human, John stands in an upturned bowl-like boat floating in an ether-like webbed space. The horse represents the spirit in Cree culture and as such, the horse-human figure in this painting suggests people of “mixed” heritage are powerful spiritual transformers.
On the right, Littlechild’s great grandmother, Eva Pipestem, a Plains Cree descendant of chief Big Bear, looks out at the viewer with a tipi behind her. The red background between the two women merges its lacy pattern with a microscopic view of hemoglobin, while a centrally placed crucifix implies they are not only connected by shared descendents. Littlechild’s work asks how they would have interacted if they met in real life. Would they have overcome cultural difference?
Littlechild’s recent digital works also meditate on heritage, family and relationships. In his Cross Cultural Examination series, Littlechild extends generational memory and asks hypothetical questions through portrait. Each image juxtaposes historical photographs side by side against richly symbolic backgrounds to suggest dialogue between individuals who would otherwise never have communicated.
This is the central theme of Cross Cultural Examination #2, which features two people from opposite ends of Littlechild’s family tree. On the left, Littlechild’s great grandfather’s cousin, Grace Marston stands in front of her L.A. mansion.
Highly emotive and symbolically energizing, Littlechild’s work is imbued with visionary qualities of storytelling, experience and introspection.