PUBLIC ART: Billboard on Shaw by Nadya Kwandibens

April 21, 2023 - June 3, 2023

Billboard on Shaw is co-presented by Native Women in the Arts and Critical Distance  in partnership with Scotiabank CONTACT Photography Festival and Partners in Art, featuring Shiibaashka’igan: Honouring the Sacred Jingle Dress by Nadya Kwandibens.

This outdoor component of the exhibition Materialized presents an image by newly-appointed Toronto Photo Laureate Nadya Kwandibens. Photographed at the Naotkamegwanning roundhouse, the portrait depicts three Anishinaabekwewag sharing a candid moment of laughter, subverting the “stoic Indian” trope that characterizes historical portraits by non-Indigenous photographers. It is said that laughter is medicine—this image brings together that energy with the healing power of the jingle dress.

The jingle dress and dance were gifted to the Anishinaabek in the early 1900s. Pictured in Kwandibens’ image are Shirley White, Roseanna Cowley, and Caroline White, from Naotkamegwanning First Nation in northwestern Ontario, the region from which the jingle dress originates. Kwandibens’ extensive and prolific body of work as a portrait photographer has taken her across Canada to document Indigenous artists, activists, knowledge keepers, and thought leaders. These portrait sessions often result in a number of outtakes, capturing subjects in candid moments. The work presented here is one of several outtakes from a series photographed for the exhibition Shiibaashka’igan: Honouring the Sacred Jingle Dress at the Lake of the Woods Museum (Kenora, Ontario).

As part of the group exhibition Materialized with artists Joi T. Arcand, Celeste-Pedri Spade, and Catherine Blackburn, the work Shiibaashka’igan brings the viewer into the healing circle of laughter, providing a much-needed moment of respite and joy to passersby while speaking to the exhibition’s broader themes of intergenerational memory, familial narrative, and decolonization. Visit the billboard at 180 Shaw Street, Toronto.

This program is made possible through the generous support of Partners in Art and Scotiabank CONTACT Photography Festival, and Native Women in the Arts. Critical Distance gratefully acknowledges funding support from the Ontario Arts Council, an agency of the Government of Ontario.

Image: Nadya Kwandibens, Shiibaashka’igan: Honouring the Sacred Jingle Dress, 2019, digital photography. Courtesy of the artist.