As an artist, teacher and cultural activist, Ruth Cuthand continues to be an influential figure among Saskatchewan artists and First Nations artists across the country. Ruth Cuthand: Back Talk (works 1983-2009) is the first mid-career retrospective of the Saskatchewan Cree artist and the first to circulate outside Saskatchewan.
For more than 30 years, Ruth Cuthand has been challenging mainstream perspectives on colonialism and the relationships between “settlers” and Natives in a practice marked by political invective, humour, and a deliberate rawness of style.
Cuthand, who was born in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, in 1954, is of Plains Cree and Scottish ancestry. Her works “talk back” to mainstream media and colonial society, addressing the frictions between cultures, the failures of representation, and the political uses of anger in Canada.
Cuthand’s stylistic crudeness suits her consideration of politics—one that counters the stereotype of Canada as the great polite nation. Rudimentary stenciling of text on image is a hallmark of her work. It parodies notions of “Indians” as unlearned, tips its hat towards governmental anonymity, and speaks simply and humorously to non-Aboriginal audiences who otherwise may not “get it.”
The 1876 Indian Act was passed into law as a means to protect, civilize and assimilate the Indian population. Today it remains a barrier to improvement in First Nations standards of living and a paternalistic system of governance devoid of transparency. Ruth Cuthand’s work challenges the situation by exposing the inequities that have plagued for centuries Canada’s relationship with its First Peoples, while proudly claiming her complex and self-determined aboriginal identity, independent of any Indian Act.
This project has been made possible in part through a contribution from the Saskatchewan Arts Board Culture on the Go program and a grant from the Museums Assistance Program, Department of Canadian Heritage. Funding through a multi-year operational grant from Canada Council for the Arts is also gratefully acknowledged. Panel text courtesy of Mount Saint Vincent University Art Gallery.
Curated by Jen Budney and co-produced by the Mendel Art Gallery and TRIBE Inc., Saskatoon.