In our most recent show, Edmonton-based artist Tashina Makokis sets up a visual call-and-response between two very different kinds of paintings.
On the gallery’s east wall are brightly coloured portraits of familiar figures from Canadian history. Nellie McClung, George Simpson, Emily Murphy, Frank Oliver, John A McDonald, and Duncan Campbell Scott each pose sedately and calmly. Makokis’s painting is bright and bold; she represents the faces of their figures (oh, the eyes!) in captivating ways. But each of these portraits is disrupted by disconcerting blobs, tentacles, cancerous growths around the face. These scratchy patches, which are made from paint mixed with pumice, rise up from the canvases; they threaten to take over the faces of these so-called “great Canadians.” Makokis challenges their greatness and, instead, draws our attention toward the roles that these and so many celebrated historical figures have played in the reproduction of colonial settler violence.
The west and north walls of the gallery hold three large landscape paintings, each representing not the land but the artist’s nude body. These erotic landscapes are set against ugly portraits in ways that call attention to the dynamic of a colonial gaze. These are celebratory paintings that insist upon the reclamation of indigenous bodies and lives.
Tashina Makokis is a nehiyaw iskwew from Saddle Lake Cree Nation.