Hands of History.
Directed by Loretta Todd.
Studio D, National Film Board of Canada: 1994. VHS, 52 minutes.
Order number: 9194 001.
Indian women artists-Canada.
Grades 7 and up / Ages 12 and up.
Review by Adele Case.
Hands of History is a visually beautiful film with an
historical component. Director Loretta Todd, who has an aboriginal
background, celebrates the renaissance of women in much of the mixed
media art and craft forms that can be found in Canada. All of the artists
who appear in the film are women, and their backgrounds are in tribes in
British Columbia (Stol:o, Gitskan) and east of the Rockies (Chippewan,
Blood). Todd has tried to show the early life and early influences of
each artist, and clearly these strong, determined women have had to cope
with varying degrees of discrimination in a society that has neglected
their cultural heritage.
The film follows four aboriginal artists. Jane Ash Poitras works
with paint, print making, and collage. Her works have been shown in
Canada, the United States, and Germany. Joane Cardinal-Schubert works
with mixed-media, and some of her productions have chalk-board
explanations that help to put a viewer into the context in which she
created the work. This powerful artist has been vocal in criticising
colonialism. Rena Point Bolton has worked from childhood in weaving a
myriad of baskets. She comments that artists have "carried the culture
of the people." Bolton has personally revived the forgotten art of
Tsimshian weaving, and she now teaches her craft, from the early work of
searching for suitable seaweeds, bark, or grasses, to the preparation of
the material, and finally through all stages of the weaving process. Todd
enlivens the section on Bolton with black-and-white footage of
early basket weavers, who often sold their wonderful creations for tiny
sums to supplement the family income. The last artist profiled, Doreen Jensen, is a
founding member of the K'san Village and Native Artists' Centre. Jensen
makes her own tools, and has created works as varied as masks, button
blankets, bentboxes, jewellery, and prints.
The prime focus of this film is to show adolescents and others the
range of native art, art that can help aboriginal people reclaim their
heritage. Fittingly, Hands of History introduces the belief
that out that parents or grandparents can speak to their descendants
through totems. But even non-native people can share in the feeling of peace possible
when viewing fine totems that show faces, birds, and animal forms.
Because the documentation of Indian art was originally anthropological, "women's art" was often not recorded, or was considered mere craft work. This film
will help to dispel that notion, as the works displayed show the talent,
the wonderful facility with colour, and the simplicity and strength of
works that vary from masks to blankets, from baskets to collages,
from dance dresses to mats.
This film should have wide appeal in schools, both in social studies
and art classes. Hopefully, it will also encourage many young native
girls in particular to explore their past, and to seek out fulfilment in
studying and creating their own art.
Adele Case is a high-school teacher who lives in West Vancouver.
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