Olivia Whetung

Mar 3 - Apr 22, 2017

Opening: Mar 3, 7:00-10:00 pm

Please join Artspace for the opening reception of tibewh on Friday, March 3, 2017 from 7-10pm

“The river that runs through the city I live in is called the Otonabee. The Otonabee runs through Michi Saagiig Nishnaabeg territory from the river we call Zaagaatay Igiwan into Pimaadashkodeyong. In and around Nogojiwanong, the name Otonabee is spoken every day by those of us living in the city – “Best Western Otonabee Inn,” “Otonabee Meat Packers,” “Otonabee Animal Hospital,” and so on. Thousands of times a day, the word “Otonabee” is spoken by people who have no idea what the word means, and who are ignorant of both the history of this Michi Saagiig Nishnaabeg land they live on, as well as our contemporary Michi Saagiig Nishnaabeg presence. This process is repeated all over Canada every day, and represents a kind of disappearance of Indigenous presence.”

-Leanne Simpson, Dancing on Our Turtle’s Back, 93 (2011)

In anishinaabemowin, tibewh is the way one would refer to the shoreline if they were on, or in, a body of water. tibweh is a reflection of perspective and presence for the speaker, and could be seen as a relational way of being within one’s environment. tibewh, Olivia Whetung’s exhibition of new work produced since the artist’s return to her home territory, is a conceptual engagement through beadwork with the Trent-Severn Waterway. The 386 kilometer-long Waterway, which connects Niigaani-gichigami/Lake Ontario at Trenton in the southeast, to Naadowewi-gichigami/Lake Huron at Port Severn in the northwest, is a system of travel that may represent practical infrastructure, a summer tourist destination, or a monument to the colonization of rivers, lakes, the species that live within waterways. Deemed a National Historic Site, the Waterway is fed by the Kawartha Lakes, Zaagaata Igiwan/the Trent and Odoonabii-Ziibi/Otonabee Rivers, among others. While each of these bodies of water have become a cultural symbol of Peterborough and the Kawarthas, they also hold immense cultural significance to the many Indigenous peoples who have called this territory home.

Like traditional Western mapping systems, Whetung’s work is an abstract interpretation of something real, physical, and living. Using topographical imaging sourced from Google Earth tibewh is a collection of the artist’s reinterpretations of the bodies of water at each of the 42 locks that make up the Trent-Severn. By beading over each body of water Whetung intervenes and reclaims the water that has been altered and reshaped through the construction and continued usage of the settler-made Waterway. The work is an enactment of Nishinaabeg presence, and an engagement in deeper conversations of settlement and location within the territory, and beyond.

Olivia Whetung is anishinaabekwe and a member of Curve Lake First Nation. She completed her BFA with a minor in anishinaabemowin at Algoma University in 2013, and her MFA at the University of British Columbia in 2016. Whetung works in various media including beadwork, printmaking, and digital media. Her work explores acts of/active native presence, as well as the challenges of working with/in/through Indigenous languages in an art world dominated by the English language. Her work is informed in part by her experiences as an anishinaabemowin learner. Whetung is from the area now called the Kawarthas, and presently resides on Chemong Lake.