Rosalie Favell, "Joseph Sanchez," Ottawa, On, 2009
Rosalie Favell, "Sanchez," Ottawa, ON, 2009, photograph on paper, 19.2” x 15.7”
SASKATCHEWAN: Rosalie Favell, (Re)facing the Camera, MacKenzie Art Gallery in Regina, Aug. 29 to Nov. 22
Rosalie Favell found herself part of a welcoming group of aboriginal artists doing residencies in 2008 at the Banff Centre. She decided to shoot portraits of these fellow artists, who included Alex Janvier, Nadia Myre and Frank Shebageget. For the next seven years, wherever Favell went, she photographed other aboriginal artists, curators and cultural figures. She sees the portraits as a celebration of what she calls a “community” of aboriginal artists. The point of the project is simple: “Here we are, and this is what we look like.”
Rosalie Favell, "Daphne Odjig," 2009
Rosalie Favell "Daphne Odjig," Ottawa, ON, 2009, photograph on paper, 19.2” x 15.7”
The result is a collection of almost 300 portraits, about half from Canada and the other half from the United States, along with a sprinkling from other countries. The black-and-white images include such prominent Western Canadian artists as Daphne Odjig, Lori Blondeau, Ruth Cuthand and Adrian Stimson. Smaller exhibitions from this body of work have been held in Winnipeg and Ottawa, but this is the first time all the portraits are together.
Clearly, Favell, a Métis from Winnipeg who now lives in Ottawa, knows how to make her subjects relax. Most smile naturally. Few strike artificial poses. There’s a definite lack of attitude. The portraits are like interrupted conversations among friends. “That’s the look I am comfortable with,” says Favell.
Rosalie Favell, "Patricia Deadman," Banff, AB, 2008
Rosalie Favell, "Deadman," Banff, AB, 2008, photograph on paper, 19.2” x 15.7”
But there are political overtones. Both Favell and Michelle LaVallee, the MacKenzie Art Gallery curator organizing the show, are well aware the camera was once a tool Europeans used to exploit aboriginal people. But in this case, an aboriginal woman is wielding the camera, creating images of other indigenous people as they are, not as constructed through a white male gaze.
As a child, Favell was unaware of her aboriginal heritage; it was not discussed at the dinner table. These days, she is exploring her childhood by studying old family photos and turning them into paintings – a new medium for someone previously known only for photo-based art. Six paintings were to be part of the exhibition. Some show Favell as a youngster playfully wearing a feathered headdress, not as a sign of her own heritage, but, surprisingly, as the exotic apparel of an alien culture. With irony and humour, the paintings explore one woman’s ambiguous past.