We are pleased to present Gail Tremblay's latest exhibition entitled Shattering Images. Instructed in ash splint and sweetgrass weaving techniques by her Mi'kmaq and Onondaga aunts, for nearly 40 years, Tremblay has woven baskets using repurposed lengths of ethnographic and Hollywood film through which she comments on the cinematic representation of Indigenous life and people.
Since the invention of cinema in the late 19th century, the filmic representation of Native Americans has been tangled up in the distorted origins of the "New World"-the mythology of a "wild" America. Occupying flattened one-dimensional roles and racist tropes for decades, Indigenous characters were not so much characters in their own right as they were props to set the scene of the "Wild West" as it was envisioned in the colonial imaginary. Shattering images of "Hollywood's Indian," Tremblay's use of these film images is a poignant act of reclamation.
This exhibition features the Windwalker suite-four large baskets, made in the fall of 2021, in which Tremblay weaves white film leader and 35mm acetate film around cylindrical plexiglass forms. Looped stitches of film point up and down from the surface. Individual frames, retaining a magenta glow, reveal scenes from the movie Windwalker. Released in 1980, the film's dialogue was spoken entirely in the Cheyenne and Crow languages (with English subtitles), though it starred the white English actor Trevor Howard in the title role of the aging Cheyenne chief. While Windwalker billed itself as the most "authentic" Native American-legend film ever made, controversy erupted when it was mischaracterized as a foreign language film and subsequently rejected for consideration for an Oscar in that category; the rules required nominations from the foreign country of origin-in this case, the United States.
Tremblay's incisive titles take aim at these missteps and interrogate the long and harmful history of the onscreen portrayals of Indigenous people and life as imagined by non-Indigenous filmmakers and actors: Dreaming Indians into an Ethnographic Past; The Blue-Eyed Chief Passes Away; and perhaps, most pointedly, How Old Stereotypes Never Die. In addition, a selection of baskets woven over the past decade call attention to so-called ethnographic documentary films in which Indigenous-in this case, Inuit-peoples in the late 1960s were asked to reenact traditional practices from the past while omitting modern cultural adaptations and evidence of intercultural exchange-another more subtle form of misrepresentation. Tremblay's titles remind us that the hunger for oil and natural resource exploitation has devastated the environment, making those traditional ways of living increasingly difficult.
Also included are two multi-canvas acrylic paintings in luminous metallic golds, silvers, and coppers. Glistening mountainous forms reveal, in the artist's words, "the wealth hidden just beneath the skin of the land," a wealth that haunted the colonial imagination. As Tremblay says, All That Glitters… speaks to the ways in which "glamour and beauty can be used to mask unspeakable cruelty."
Exquisitely beautiful and striking in their physical presence, Tremblay's film baskets celebrate and reclaim Indigenous wisdom and identity, while at the same time, cut deep into the heart of a cinematic unconscious laying just beneath the skein of U.S. American history.