Peeking through the glass doors of the artist-run centre Diagonale on a cold, gloomy winter afternoon in February, art-going audiences at Le Carré de Gaspé are treated to the bright, lively, fluorescent accents of Maria Hupfield’s most recent solo exhibition, Manidoowegin/Spirit Skin: Memory and Form. Seen from the outside, the garment-like objects made with felt, fabric, and other materials on view appear dormant, as though lying in wait before coming to life. Suggestively animistic, they evoke both the nostalgia of conceptual art’s asceticism and the powerful aura of deeper spiritual beliefs and convictions. This magical balance, between form and function, and between aesthetic and concept, is one of the strengths of Hupfield’s practice.
Hupfield’s unequivocal gift for storytelling takes over inside the gallery, as we are transported into a visually rich sculptural environment of mischief, play, and denunciations of colonialism. The first piece on view is Unity Hood (2017), a black fabric balaclava adorned with numerous round pins that mimic the colours of an Indigenous medicine wheel. The hood is displayed on a faceless mannequin, which also wears a lightning-bolt-shaped felt apron with fluorescent yellow piping. The sculpture beckons to be worn, but it also gives a sense of presence, casting a watchful eye over the exhibition. The repetitive black, white, red, and yellow of the medicine wheels on the hood create a hypnotic pattern resembling chainmail or a coat of arms. In this intriguing ambiguity, the hood recalls traditional knowledge and genealogy, all the while fending off evil or malignant forces that threaten to afflict the body and the soul.
Just a few steps away, another significant presence is felt in Untitled (After Luna) (2019), a cut-off black t-shirt that reads “FUCK YOU YOU FUCKIN FUCK.” The printed text is also stitched in a checkerboard pattern with bright yellow fringe that dangles off to the sides. This piece is an homage to James Luna (1950–2018), a Payómkawichum, Ipai, and Mexican-American interdisciplinary artist of the utmost importance to the development of the contemporary art-historical canon. The cut-off black t-shirt directly references Luna’s three-part self-portrait Half Indian/Half Mexican (1991), which confronted preconceived notions and visual stereotypes associated with both Indigenous and Mexican heritages. Explicitly citing the outfit worn by Luna as an iconographic element of the piece, Hupfield accentuates it by introducing both the bold, confrontational text and the electric ribbons that echo Luna’s panache, joie de vivre, and intensity. With this piece, Hupfield pays a beautiful tribute to Luna while underscoring the embeddedness of costume, clothes, body, and spirit in the animation of objects.
Hupfield’s colourful and dynamic sculptures weave in and out of the thresholds that divide natural and synthetic materials. By generating curious assemblages and juxtaposing iconic objects with her expertise in felt-making and sculpting, she inextricably links wool, polyester, Indigeneity, colonization, and the performativity of dextrous handiwork.
Throughout Manidoowegin, Hupfield’s colourful and dynamic sculptures weave in and out of the thresholds that divide natural and synthetic materials. By generating curious assemblages and juxtaposing iconic objects with her expertise in felt-making and sculpting, she inextricably links wool, polyester, Indigeneity, colonization, and the performativity of dextrous handiwork. In the accompanying essay for the exhibition, Regina-based Métis-Canadian feminist scholar Sherry Farrell Racette aligns Hupfield’s practice with Diagonale’s explicit mandate to think about fibre arts in terms of matter, concept, or referentiality. “Objects remember,” she states, going on to remark how the “painstaking gesture of each stitch sews intention, thought, and emotion into the work, while performance releases it.” For Hupfield, who is Anishinaabek of Wasauksing First Nation, the porosity between Indigenous rites and rituals and the legacies of Western conceptual art becomes an anchor point for producing material-oriented and highly narrative interpretations of text, textile, and intertextuality.
Whether in Felt Apron (2022), an apron and two hangers made of felt hanging on the wall, or in Acknowledgment Banner (2021), an impressively large black fabric banner with painted white words reflecting on the nature of land, solidarity, and the recognition of colonization that runs across the back corner of the gallery, Manidoowegin bears the many traces of labour, action, and a corporeal engagement with the memories that objects carry. In the promotional image for the exhibition, Acknowledgment Banner is documented wrapped around the artist’s waist as she navigates the corner of the room. Literally wearing the work, adorning herself with the words “Land and and … speaksolidaritybuild … Gchi-oodenaang,” Hupfield links her dancing and moving body to the territory, the Anishinaabemowin language to the colonizing English, and the transformation of fibres, textiles, and ribbons from a pre-contact era to today. Telling complicated stories in accessible, smart, and aesthetically compelling ways, Manidoowegin moves fluidly between past and present, conceiving of an environment in which object-oriented ontology is not a twentieth-century Western concept or buzzword but more deeply grounded in Indigenous practices, knowledges, and beliefs dating back centuries.
January 1st—March 19th 2022