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What is an urban Iroquois?

June 6th, 2017

Jeff Thomas. Imposition of Order, 2017 Pigment print on archival paper, 76.2 × 304.8 cm © Jeff Thomas

The Luminato Festival kicks off on June 14, and the AGO is excited to once again be a part of it! We’re partnering with Luminato to install a massive vinyl reproduction of a brand new artwork onto the exterior of the St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts. Imposition of Order by Jeff Thomas was commissioned by the AGO for our upcoming exhibition, Every. Now. Then: Reframing Nationhood, and this installation will mark its sneak-peek debut, ahead of its real unveiling at the AGO later in June.

Imposition of Order is a composite photo work that investigates why the term “urban Iroquois” does not exist in the modern lexicon. It combines four significant images:

  • Samuel de Champlain’s map of New France (1612);
  • The Champlain monument in Ottawa;
  • William Berczy’s Portrait of Thayendanegea, also known as Joseph Brant (the Mohawk war chief who led the Haudenosaunee Confederacy to fight with the British during the American Revolution);
  • The Haldimand Tract map defining the territory along the Grand River granted to the Haudenosaunee Confederacy in recognition of their service. The Haldimand Tract defined a twelve-mile wide area along the entire length of the Grand River, equalling about 950,000 acres. Today, only 48,000 acres remains of this original grant with much of the tract now occupied by settlers.

Starting June 14 and running to September 30, the installation of Imposition of Order will face Berczy Park, named for the artist who produced several compelling portraits of Thayendanegea (Joseph Brant). The Berczy portrait featured in Thomas’s work is part of the Thomson Collection of Canadian Art at AGO.

Thomas spoke with the AGO to tell us his thinking about Imposition of Order and what “urban Iroquois’ means.

I am an urban-Iroquois. You won’t find a definition for ‘urban Iroquois’ in any dictionary or anthropological publication – it is this absence that informs my work as a photo-based artist, researcher, independent curator, cultural analyst and public speaker. My study of Indian-ness seeks to create an image bank of my urban-Iroquois experience, as well as re-contextualize historical images of First Nations people for a contemporary audience……Ultimately, my work is about how we feel as Indigenous people: our invisibility in urban spaces, where our stories aren’t told and how our interpretations of living in the world aren’t reflected. It’s a way to address the erasure of our culture and history, and bring our stories back into focus.” – Jeff Thomas

Imposition of Order will make its official debut as part of Every. Now. Then: Reframing Nationhood, which runs at the AGO from June 29 to February 18. AGO Members see it free!

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