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Canku Ota

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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


November 16, 2002 - Issue 74


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Daphne Odjig

Picture 1: Content Together - 40 x 32 inches Acrylic on Canvas
Picture 2: The Power of Collective Thinking - 40 x 32 Inches Acrylic on Canvas
Content Together, 1988  acrylic on canvas, 40" x 31 7/8"Celebrated artist Daphne Odjig was born in 1919 on the Wikwemikong Reserve, Manitoulin Island. Her heritage is a combination of Odawa, Potawatomi and English roots, the Native aspects of which were revealed to Odjig as a child on sketching excursions with her grandfather. From him, a stone-carver, she learned not only the legends of her ancestors, but also the use of curvilinear design for which she has become so well known.

Odjig had painted for most of the years of her life, but it was in the 1960's that she began to exhibit a deliberately Native perspective in her work and, like her grandfather, felt compelled to try to instruct the young about their heritage. To do so, she began to focus her art-making upon the legends, joys and realities of aboriginal life, while simultaneously refining her signature style of utilizing clear colours, soft, curving contours enclosed in black outlining, transparency and overlapping of shapes and modernist, abstracted figuration.

Odjig became a founding member of the first Canadian Native-run printmaking operation, the Canadian Professional Native Artist Association, or the "New Group of Seven" as they were described in the 70's. By this time , she was exhibiting her work several times a year, and had already gained international exposure in the United States, Europe and Japan. Her numerous awards include honorary doctorates from Laurentian University and the University of Toronto, appointment to The Order of Canada, and the election to the Royal Canadian Academy of Art. In addition, in 1978 she was presented with an Eagle Feather by Chief Wakageshig on behalf of the Wikwemikong Reserve, in recognition of her artistic accomplishments- an honour previously reserved for men to acknowledge prowess in hunt or war. Documentaries by the C.B.C., the National Film Board and Tokyo Television have been made about Odjig,and she's completed commissions such as those for Expo '70 in Japan, Royal Ontario Museum, and the 27-foot mural at the Museum of Civilization, "The Indian in Transition".

The Power of Collective Thinking - 40 x 32 Inches Acrylic on CanvasHighly stylized portrayals of human interaction, activities and relationships, particularly in the context of Native culture, dominate Odjig's painting, drawing and printmaking. Circular motifs predominate, signifying to Odjig "completion, perfection, and ...woman,". In her own words "As an artist and as a person I have been impressed since childhood with the process that takes us from the inner image to the external reality of an image. For me it has been an endless source of delight and wonderment that awareness, thoughts and recognitions can come seemingly unbidden from an inner source that, in adulthood, I learned to call the unconscious. I know now as an adult, that every one of us is a fusion of the eternal, of ancestral wisdom or caution as well, a seer of the future- but some part of us always remains capable of responding to here and now with originality."

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