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Artist's perspective contemporary, political


Connie Cheecham, Windspeaker Contributor







Page 9

While other kids in grade school were busy playing games and finding new friends, Ruth Cuthand remembers her frequent visits with her father (Stan Cuthand) to the house of Gerald Tailfeathers. Here was her first introduction to the world of art.

"I would sit at a chair in Gerald's studio and I was just fascinated with the movement of the paint brush and the paint on the canvas. I thought that being a painter was a wonderful way to live and I was greatly influenced by Gerald Tailfeathers."

Cuthand, who received a bachelor of fine arts in 1983 and a master of fine arts from the University of Saskatchewan in 1989, feels fortunate that from a very young age she was aware that Indian people could be artists.

"I talk to other Indian artists and they say that when they were little they were inspired by paintings in the Bible or drawings on calendars. This type of exposure to European art made the Indian people (that I've talked to) think that Indians could not be artists."

While working towards her undergraduate degree, Cuthand's primary focus was on print-making. After leaving university, she looked for something to do but found that she could not get into print-making on her won because the equipment she needed was too expensive.

This set-back gave her an opportunity to experiment with other forms of art. She started painting a series of shirts and dresses based on the Ghost Dance Religion, a form of cultural revival practised by the Sioux.

"I was fascinated with the period of Indian history when Indians were forced onto reserves and had to give up their way of life and how they dealt with it."

The first shirt and dresses she painted were symbolic of the spiritual soul. She was trying to get away from the physical world and instead concentrate on the abstract, so she explored that theme for the next six years.

Cuthand's artistic expression changed from painting to drawing while she was working towards her master's degree.

She decided to work with the idea of talking about white liberals, who are "supposed to be our friends and on our sides. They are really good people but what I found with most white liberals is that they get very confusing because underneath all that goodness and light there is a streak of racism."

The Mendel Art Gallery in Saskatoon was doing small shows called Studio Visits. The curator of the art gallery looked at Cuthand's work of "white liberals" and put it on view during the Christmas holidays in 1990.

"That series changed my career a lot. Suddenly, I wasn't this painter painting pretty pictures, I was doing drawings that were pretty political and talking about a real contemporary thing."

Cuthand targeted Indian people as the audience she wanted to speak to. But when she went to a public gallery, the audience shifted. "Part of being an Indian artist is that we're supposed to educate non-Indians about Indians, which I am not interested in doing anymore because you get to a point where you get tired of it. "I'm tired of doing the cross-cultural thing. I just want to talk to Indians because I think we have a lot of things to talk about."

She doesn't see herself representing a larger community. Instead she sees herself talking about things that interest her and concern her.

"I find that there is an audience in the Indian community that says, "Yeah, I know what you're talking about."

"Being an Indian, you're stereotyped. We're sort of these hard-working women who are usually fat and we're angry. So I stereotyped the white liberals as women with long pointy noses, pointy shoes and long black fingernails.