PUBLIC ART: Billboard on Shaw by Nadya Kwandibens

April 21, 2023 - August 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.

Shiibaashka’igan: Honouring the Sacred Jingle Dress is on view at 180 Shaw Street, outside Artscape Youngplace, through April to August, 2023.

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), 2023. 8 x 8 foot billboard at 180 Shaw Street in Toronto’s West Queen West neighbourhood.  Photo: Toni Hafkenscheid.

About the Curator(s)

Ariel Smith

Ariel Smith is an award winning nêhiyaw, white settler and Jewish filmmaker, video artist, writer, and cultural worker.  Ariel works as the Artistic and Managing Director of Native Women in the Arts and is in the process of completing an MFA in Film Production from York University.

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About the Artists

Nadya Kwandibens

Nadya Kwandibens is Anishinaabe from the Animakee Wa Zhing #37 First Nation in northwestern Ontario. In 2008 she founded Red Works Photography, a dynamic photography company empowering contemporary Indigenous lifestyles and cultures through photographic essays, features, and portraits. 

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