The video works of three acclaimed artists - Michelle Derosier, Jeffrey Gibson and Terrance Houle – explore traditional rituals of First Nation Turtle Island (Canadian) and American Indians and loss of cultural identity resulting from colonisation.
In each work the drum acts as a device to connect rituals, spirits and ancestors. For American Indians, the drum is a sacred ritual object. Its rhythmic beat symbolises the heartbeat - the centre of all human emotions - while simultaneously invoking a sense of sacred spaces and audience engagement.
For Michelle Derosier, an Anishinaabe artist from Northwestern Ontario, the recent devastating discovery of the remains of well over one thousand Indigenous children, at sites of former Canadian government residential schools, provides a contemporary context for her work. Told through animation, the Grandfather Drum tells the story of Naamowin, a healer who reminds us of the power of the Anishinaabek and their ongoing struggles with colonial violence perpetrated by the Canadian state and churches. Naamowin lost his children under the Canadian Government’s Indian Residential Schools system that, from 1831 to 1996, displaced an estimated 150,000 First Nations, Métis, and Inuit children from their homelands, families, and communities. The injustices experienced by Indigenous populations through this 150-year displacement and assimilation policy were, and continue to be, devastating. Derosier’s film presents a dark story told as an animated fairytale, which acts as a counterpoint to the tension and grief of the underlying theme.
Jeffrey Gibson is a contemporary American artist of Choctaw-Cherokee heritage. In his work, One becomes the other, Gibson incorporates traditional crafts and designs to signify identity, tell stories and describe places. In 2014 he filmed Native people responding to various museum objects - dancing, singing, talking to them, or simply looking at them. By recalling memories, dressing up in ceremonial costumes, and playing drums, participants engaged with different objects, invoking connections with their owners and makers and the spirits of Choctaw-Cherokee ancestors.
Terrance Houle, a member of the Blood Tribe in Southern Alberta, Canada, investigates issues of colonisation, racism and the representation of Indigenous people in popular culture. Houle and his parents before him were forced to attend a state run Residential School that was made from bricks produced by the IXL Brick & Tile factory that had been built on Nitsitapi Land (Blackfoot Land) in 1886. In his video work, Houle symbolically pulverises bricks to the sound of his father chanting and drumming a lament that invokes the grief of families oppressed and displaced through the Residential School policy.