Installation view of some of the works featured in the exhibition, Estevan Art Gallery & Museum, Laying Claim, July 28 - September 1, 2017.
Featuring the works of Amalie Atkins, Evelyn Spice Cherry, Nida Home Doherty, Clark Ferguson, Tasha Hubbard, Jessica MacCormack & Alexus Young, and Brian Stockton
Curated by Amber Christensen
Laying Claim is an exhibition that brings together film and video works made by artists who live(d) within, or whose work responds, in some way, to the geographical, socio-political-cultural space t sometimes referred to as Saskatchewan1. Partly a selective survey of film and video practices that spans from the 1940s to contemporary works, this exhibition also proposes to create a space for the critical exploration of regionalism and the construction/deconstruction/reconstruction of regional identities.
Saskatchewan’s borders are inclusive of Treaties 2, 4, 5, 6, 8 and 10 territories. The Estevan and Art Gallery & Museum and exhibition are located on Treaty 4 and is the traditional territory of Cree, Anishinaabeg, and Assiniboine peoples and is closely adjacent to Treaty 2, which is the traditional territory of Anishinaabeg, Cree, Oji-Cree, Assiniboine, Dakota and Dene people.
I am, myself, a non-indigenous person of mixed European background (German, English, Russian-Mennonite, Danish) and though born in Winnipeg, I only spent a few weeks there before my family moved back to Saskatchewan. I was raised in various places all around the province by parents with strong agrarian familial ties, though they were some of the first of their family to leave the farm for the city. I have been wanderer in much of adulthood, returning and leaving to Saskatchewan many times, and currently I live in Brandon, Manitoba. But if someone asks me where my home is, my answer is always Saskatchewan.
Creating an exhibition that is based on a place, or region, and one that is effectively being defined by boundaries of an imperialist project, like that of Saskatchewan is challenging, and a little tenuous. There are many opportunities for failure, but also, hopefully, many opportunities for self-reflection of one’s own relationship/position to a place. Acknowledging the treaty territories for myself as a person of settler/european non-indigenous background comes with along with the need to recognize and willingness to sit with the difficult settler colonial history of this province. The treaties, which are agreements between sovereign nations, have systematically not been upheld with their original intent or spirit. This has resulted in the dispossession of First Nations peoples from their lands, with long lasting impacts on Indigenous peoples in Canada. At the same time, land acknowledgements are also a public declaration of solidarity with the original intention of the treaties, that we are all treaty people.
I propose that “Saskatchewan”, within this exhibition ,is a highly malleable ‘thing’. Something that is in fact incapable of holding fast onto any sort of static identity. “Saskatchewan”, rather than a concrete entity is instead an intellectual and affective space for the contestation, negotiation, grief and celebration of what this place is, and our own relationship to this place. A proposition that is made possible through the works in this exhibition by the artists Tasha Hubbard, Clark Ferguson, Amalie Atkins, Evelyn Spice Cherry, Alexus Young, Jessica MacCormack, Brian Stockton and Nida Home Doherty. The works in Laying Claim offer a way to move us from the abstract to the personal, the funny, to the sad and to serve as articulations of moments/feelings that can edge us towards re-imaging of other possibilities for the future.
The images in this exhibition are primarily evocative of the area of the province known geographically as the (Northern) Great Plains. Agrarian images of wheat fields, as seen in Evelyn Spice Cherry’s 1943 National Film Board production Windbreaks on the Prairies are measured against the intimate and personal micro-histories of Amalie Atkins’ Embrace. Atkins’ video provides a vicarious glimpse into the warmth of bonds held by those with shared bloodlines. Brian Stockton’s autobiographical film, heavily features the rolling prairie landscape, traces his identity along a roadmap of his home province. Rural-settler tropes are self consciously/cheekily mocked in Clark Ferguson’s Prairie Farmer Jeans, a website and single channel video that invites the viewer to slip into a farmer’s pre-worn jeans to uncover that authentic farmer experience. Tasha Hubbard’s experimental video examines the irreversible and damaging effects inflicted by colonial actions on the original buffalo herds and by extension the First Nations’ people. Nida Home Doherty’s video, When They First Came is from the early era of Saskatchewan’s video art scene. Doherty’s video is a ghostly record of the absurd rigidity of the Dominion Land Survey imposed on the tall grass prairies, part of the project that duped immigrants with false promises of flourishing family homesteads. Alexus Young and Jessica MacCormack’s collaborative work Where We Were Not: Feeling Reserved, is a recent reminder of the legacies of the colonial project. MacCormack’s animation brings to light Young’s first hand account of her experience with the Saskatoon City Police’s Starlight Tours2.
Laying claim may mean agitating against the histories of the early colonial projects of the Hudson’s Bay Company and Dominion of Canada in the claiming of land as part of an empire building project that was not theirs to be claimed. Or possibly it’s just a gentle nudge reminding us to look inward with a critical eye at ourselves, to our shared homes, which sometimes means having to accept uncomfortable histories (both recent and distant). While at other times it is a chance to reflect on our past to better understand our present. The title of this essay, Laying Claim is meant to potentially offer a way of pushing back against long held colonial/regional ideas, to embrace discomfort, and at other times to just sit with multitudes of interwoven histories and experiences that all exist within this shared space of Saskatchewan.
 These are the treaties that are located within the boundaries of the province of Saskatchewan. Office of the Treaty. Map of First Nations in Saskatchewan. Office of the Treaty. Map of First Nations in Saskatchewan.
 Encyclopedia of Saskatchewan. Treaty 4. www.otc.ca/ckfinder/userfiles/files/fnl_1100100020617_eng.pdf Accessed 5 July 2017.
http://esask.uregina.ca/entry/treaty_4.html Accessed 18 July 2017 & Treaty Relations Committee of Manitoba http://www.trcm.ca/treaties/treaties-in-manitoba/view-pdf-interactive-map-of-numbered-treaties-trcm-july-20-entry/ Accessed 18 July 2017 and Saskatchewan Indigenous Cultural Centre http://www.sicc.sk.ca/archive/bands/treaty4.html Accessed July 18 2017.
 This is building off of postcolonial scholar Arif Dirlik’s idea of ‘critical localism’, where the local can reclaim diversity and offers ways to examine colonialism/oppression and settler colonial ties. Rule, John. Practising Place: A Critical Approach to Localism. Cosmopolitan Civil Societies Journal, Vol.3, No.1, 2011, 2.
 Encyclopedia of the Great Plains. Saskatchewan and Kaye, Frances W. Meditation and History on the Great Plains. Edmonton: AU Press, 2011, 5. The Great Plains spans from the Missouri River to the Rocky Mountains and from the North Saskatchewan to the Rio Grande.
http://plainshumanities.unl.edu/encyclopedia/doc/egp.pg.073 Accessed 5 June 2017
 Brian Stockton’s autobiographical short film is titled “Saskatchewan”.
This essay, as reproduced here, was written by guest curator Amber Christensen, and originally presented in a brochure produced by guest curator Amber Christensen to accompany this exhibition.