The work of one of Canada’s most celebrated Indigenous painters is being honoured in a special exhibition at the Kelowna Art Gallery, marking what would have been her 100th birthday.
Over her lifetime, Daphne Odjig became internationally recognized for her craft. She was inducted into the Order of Canada, the Order of British Columbia, and received seven honourary degrees for her contributions to Canadian Indigenous Art.
“She was influential at the time, of course, because not only were we dealing with residential schools and discrimination against Indigenous people, she was also a woman,” said Nataley Nagy, executive director Kelowna Art Gallery.
“To add two challenges, she managed to have an amazing art practice for many decades and she was highly respected.”
Before Odjig died in 2016 at the age of 97 in Kelowna, she founded and lead a group of artists referred to as the Indian Group of Seven or Professional Native Indian Artists Inc. in the 1970s.
They were a group of artists who fought against prejudice and for the inclusion of Indigenous artists in Canadian galleries and museums. They helped pave the way for future Indigenous artists to flourish.
“You look at my work and think, ‘Oh, you must have had a very happy life,'” said Odjig in an interview with Global News before she died.
“Of course I did, but there’s another side to every story. But no matter what adversity you have had, you bounce out of it. How else are you going to express yourself if you don’t experience these things?”
Born on Sept. 11, 1919, Odjig was raised on the Wiikwemkoong Unceded Indian Reserve on Manitoulin Island, Ont. Over six decades, Odjig’s art evolved from dark mixed media where she was struggling to understand her Indigeneity to light and linear with bright colours where she mixed her own life experiences with spirituality.
A small sample of her more than 1,000 paintings is on display in Kelowna to show the different stages of her life.
“All of what you see comes from my heart… I am very in tune with the environment and my surroundings that all enters into what I do.”
Curator Stacey Koosel has selected 12 large-scale paintings from local collectors to illustrate Odjig as an emerging artist, and as an established artist.
“Guardian Shield is a 1989 work and she has this linear style here,” Koosel said. “Everything is a part of its environment. It’s a visual representation of animism —everything has a spirit and we are all interconnected.”
Daphne Odjig’s 100-year celebration exhibition will be at the Kelowna Art Gallery until Jan. 5.