Native Village Youth and Education News
November, 2009 Volume 4

Daphne Odjig honoured by gallery for 50 years as First Nation artist
By Paul Gessell, Canwest News ServiceOctober 23, 2009

Condensed by Native Village

Back in the 1940s, Daphne Odjig tried to "pass" as white to improve her job prospects. She adopted the surname Fisher, told people she was of Spanish origin, and even flirted with the idea of becoming a flamenco dancer.

These days, at age 90, Odjig embraces her aboriginal heritage. She's proud to call herself "Indian," even if some consider the term politically incorrect.

And now, the National Gallery of Canada will honour Odjig with the first-ever solo exhibition by a First Nations female artist.

"She's a great icon," said Lee-Ann Martin, curator at the Canadian Museum of Civilization.  "I think that National Gallery show is long overdue. Daphne Odjig has been doing her art since the 1940s, before (fellow First Nations artists) Alex Janvier and Norval Morrisseau. But let's not forget the power of her art and the greatness of her as an artist. It's not only that symbolism of her being the first First Nations woman. Why is she there? It's about her art and the power of that."

Odjig's show was curated by Bonnie Devine for the National Gallery and the Art Gallery of Sudbury. The exhibition opened in Sudbury two years ago, and has been travelling through North America. Included are about 60 paintings and prints from 50 years of creativity.

Odjig is of mixed heritage.  Her father was a Potawatomi; her mother was an English war bride. Daphne's artwork fuses both cultures using aboriginal themes and motifs with European styles.

Daphne first experience racism when she moved away from the reserve. It was then she adopted the surname Fisher to better fit into mainstream culture.

A major turning point for Odjig -- and return to her aboriginal roots -- came in 1964, when she helped organize an aboriginal art exhibition on the Wiki reserve.  In 1973, she helped found Professional Indian Artists Inc.. That group became known as the Indian Group of Seven, and they raised the profile of modern aboriginal art in Canada and abroad.

Many honours have been bestowed upon Odjig in her lifetime, including the Order of Canada and the Governor General's Visual Arts Award.

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