Student curates exhibit on Indigenous concepts of time

Alexandra Kahsenni:io Nahwegahbow is a PhD student in Cultural Mediations at Carleton’s Institute of Comparative Studies in Literature, Art and Culture. (Photo provided)

When the Canada Council for the Arts announced it was looking for a curator to do a show at the new Âjagemô art space last fall, Carleton PhD candidate Alexandra Kahsenni:io Nahwegahbow was skeptical about applying. It would be her first time curating an exhibit and she wasn’t sure she had the confidence.

However, after receiving encouragement from Sandra Dyck, director of the Carleton University Art Gallery (CUAG), Nahwegahbow applied and was chosen for the position.

With help from Ottawa’s arts community, Nahwegahbow curated “Temporal Re-Imaginings,” an exhibition that showcases Indigenous artwork from the Canada Council for the Arts, CUAG, the Ottawa Art Gallery, and Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada.

The art space is at the Canada Council’s new home on Elgin Street in downtown Ottawa.

Nahwegahbow says the exhibition has been a success since opening in November and that the Âjagemô art space draws a crowd of people who otherwise might not walk into an art gallery.

“People that go in there maybe haven’t seen a whole lot of Aboriginal art before, or they otherwise wouldn’t have encountered Aboriginal art,” she says. “It’s even just that … moment of walking in and being like: ‘Wow they actually think in really beautiful ways, and their worldview, even though it might be very different from the way I think, is very beautiful.’”

Nahwegahbow, who is Anishinaabe and Kanien’keha:ka, and a member of Whitefish River First Nation, says she hopes Indigenous audiences feel proud when they see her exhibition at the Âjagemô space, just as she does when she sees Indigenous art on the walls.

Sometimes when she’s downtown, Nahwegahbow goes to the exhibition to watch how people engage with the art. She likes to see where people stop and linger.

Visitors are particularly fascinated with a piece by Mary Longman, which changes from one photographic image of a cemetery in Saskatchewan to another, representing the ongoing presence of Indigenous peoples on the land.

But her exhibition is more than something interesting to look at. Nahwegahbow says the show draws on the Indigenous concepts of time, and is about imagining and rethinking the status quo.

“Imagining can be considered kind of an activist process,” Nahwegahbow says. “Just by virtue of imagining, you are rethinking the status quo.”

“I’m really sort of drawn to this idea of Indigenous futurism,” she says. ”People that are rethinking or imagining alternatives and empowered Indigenized futures.”

An example of this in the exhibit is Joi Arcand’s “Here on Future Earth,” which shows photographs of different towns and First Nation reserves. If you look closely, the signs in the photos are in Cree syllabics.

“She’s imagining a future where, on Cree territory, Indigenous and non-Indigenous people can speak and understand Cree, which is a wonderful thing,” she says. “When I see images like that, it makes you imagine that that’s a possibility.”

“Temporal Re-Imaginings” will be on display until April 30.

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