Take a small toy figurine of the stereotypical ‘Indian’ – garbed in headdresses, jewellery fashioned from bones, brandishing a tomahawk – place it in front of iconic political or economic symbols, like the CN Tower, the National Gallery of Canada, even railway crossings – photograph it, and you get Jeff Thomas’ work.
Housed within Sheridan’s Creative Campus Galleries at the Hazel McCallion Campus until April 2018, selections from Thomas’ photographic series, entitled Indians on Tour, explore stereotypes about Indigenous people, and their place in society. Gallery staff worked in partnership with the College’s Centre for Indigenous Learning and Support to develop the exhibit and choose the works to be displayed. Elijah Williams (Honours Bachelor of Photography ’16) is the Centre’s Indigenous Initiatives Coordinator. He says he hopes the exhibit gets people thinking about how diverse Indigenous people are, and the way stereotypes have brushed over that uniqueness.
“Jeff Thomas touches on narratives that are relatable to many Indigenous people, including myself. One of the central themes is indigenous identity. In a playful way, Jeff really narrates this idea by placing the toy ‘Indian’ in places around the world,” Williams says. “To make reconciliation happen, we must understand where these stereotypes come from and who perpetuated this ideology of a pan-Indigenous identity.”
“To make reconciliation happen, we must understand where these stereotypes come from and who perpetuated this ideology of a pan-indigenous identity.” –Elijah Williams
The gallery will also be hosting a series of talks, lunch and learns, and documentary screenings to tackle these topics. On Feb. 15, Sheridan will host a Creative Campus Series lecture called The Challenge of Decolonizing Indigenous Education by Roberta Jamieson. Her lecture will take place against the backdrop of an installation crafted by Canadian Inuk sculptor Couzyn van Heuvelen. His work, entitled Nitsiit, features large-scale fishing lures crafted from aluminum, wood and ceramics. They are the result of van Heuvelen’s time as part of Sheridan’s Temporary Contemporary program that gives artists the chance to implement new ideas. Catherine Hale, Director of Creative Campus Planning, hopes all the works will help begin a dialogue at Sheridan about historical and contemporary Indigenous experiences.
“The Creative Campus Galleries are delighted to present Jeff Thomas’ Indians on Tour in partnership with the Centre for Indigenous Learning and Support,” she says. “By presenting Thomas’ multi-layered photographs, which are complemented by the weekly lunch and learns, we aim to inspire deep reflection and foster vital conversations among our community members.”