Kelsey Wrightson


Performing Knowledge: Art and re/production of Aboriginal Canada


Ranging from art shows and museum exhibits, to fetishised reproductions of plastic Canadiana, the art of Canadian aboriginal peoples has been paradoxically used to present, misrepresent, and re-present the complex culture of the first inhabitants of North America. With neo-colonial politics of a multi-national culture woven into the creation, framing, performance, and viewing of Aboriginal art, the circulation of First Nation’s art in Canada has come to highlight the doubled importance of art in both the creation and transmission of knowledge. Aboriginal art in state sanctioned form enacts a discursive structure that often renders perpetuated colonial marginalisation invisible by paradoxically making Aboriginal art selectively visible in cultivated and regulated forms and practices. Legitimising particular presentations re-colonizes Aboriginal art forms while defining and limiting Indigeneity in a colonial construct. This creatively limits what is known and knowable about Indigeniety by constraining what is viewed as Indigenous art, how it is viewed, and the knowledge practices inherent in the processes of viewing art. However, Aboriginal art also defies this neo-colonial cooptation of regulated visibility. Contemporary production and reclamation of art as museum artefact reflects and engages the politics of multicultural, colonial and assimilative cultural pressures while simultaneously forcing a reflection on what is and can be known through Indigenous art. Both production of new art and revitalisation of traditional art encourages the diversity of distinct indigenous communities beyond the discursive limits of colonised or state sanctioned forms and simultaneously, reframes of how Aboriginal art and indigeneity is portrayed and viewed, and knowledge practiced. This paper argues that artistic practice provides a unique means in and through which Indigeniety may be known. While potentially complicit to neo-colonial assimilative and homogenising portraits of indigeneity, art also is a space for unique knowledge formation of Indigeneity, and dually, a place for creation or understanding Indigeneity through a uniquely adaptable and inherently reflective epistemology.


Kelsey Wrightson began her university education in the Visual Arts program at the University of Victoria in British Columbia, Canada. After transferring to Political Science in her third year, she graduated with a dual focus in International Relations and Political Theory while maintaining a special interest in Cultural Studies. Beginning her Master’s degree in Cultural Social and Political Thought out of the Political Science Department, she is now focusing her research on Political Theory and contemporary First Nation’s politics’ in Canada.