(b. 1952)

 

Bonnie Devine is a member of the Serpent River First Nation,[1] an Anishinaabe/Ojibwe territory in central Ontario on the north shore of Lake Huron. She is an installation artist, painter, curator, writer, and educator. Her work emerges from a deep interest in and commitment to the storytelling and pictorial traditions that are central to the history and development of Anishinaabe culture. These interests are central to her art practice and are expressed in image and object, video and teaching, storytelling and political ideas. They also inform her work as an independent curator.

 

History and narrative are at the centre of her work. From earliest childhood her art has been about stories - the voices that tell them, the bodies that carry them and the land that inspires them.

Devine’s drawings, videos, sculptures, and installations have been exhibited in solo and group exhibitions in Canada, the USA, South America, Russia, and Europe. 

Bonnie Devine

 

Her work has been recognized by numerous awards, including the Curry Award (1999), the Toronto Visual Arts Protégé Award (2001) and the prestigious Eiteljorg Fellowship of Contemporary Native American Art (2011) as well as numerous awards from the Canada Council and Ontario Arts Council.  Her works are in major collections, including the National Museum of the American Indian (USA), the National Gallery of Canada and the Eiteljorg Museum (USA).

 

 

Devine is an Associate Professor and the Founding Chair of the Indigenous Visual Culture program at OCAD University. She has published many writings and has written and directed several films. Her curatorial practice includes 

Letter to Sandy, Bonnie Devine, diptych, giclee print, graphite and cotton thread on paper (overall 76.2 x 121.92cm), 2008

producing important shows such as The Drawings and Paintings of Daphne Odjig, a Retrospective Exhibition (touring 2005-2011).

 

 

 

[1]There are three legally recognized Indigenous groups in Canada: the First Nations, the Métis and Inuit.

  • [1]The First Nations have treaty relations with Canada or the British Crown that involve the provision of legal title to a tract of land or territory, called a Reserve.

  • [1]The Métis trace their descent to mixed Indigenous and European heritage.

  • [1]Inuit are a group of culturally similar Indigenous peoples who inhabit the Arctic regions of Canada, Greenland and the United States.

[1]Serpent River First Nation, called Genaabaajing in the Ojibwe language, was formally established in 1850 through the Robinson Huron treaty. The residents of Serpent River First Nation are of the Ojibwe nation, and have inhabited the area from ancient times.  

 

 

Devine is an Associate Professor and the Founding Chair of the Indigenous Visual Culture program at OCAD University. She has published many writings and has written and directed several films. Her curatorial practice includes 

Bonnie Devine Artist Statement

 

I work in sculpture, installation, video, drawing, and painting. Both my art practice and the research that grounds it are either rooted in visual ideas that are developed either in the studio as the result of historical readings, or in-situ (on the land) in response to histories, stories, or legends that are embedded in specific locations. I am interested in the image making practices of my Anishinaabe[1] ancestors, and their occupation and dis-occupation of various sites. My work attempts to trace the absence of the Anishnaabek in these territories using the colonial mapping and claiming techniques that have strategically served to erase their history and the Indigenous methods of mark-making and mapping that reassert it.

 

Letters from Home is a series of four glass casts taken from molds I made on the pre-Cambrian rock of the Canadian Shield, which lines the shores of the Serpent River where I grew up. Each cast is the size of a large book, as if the story of the rock could be read, or it’s ancient history told through the rippled transparency of the glass. The casts rest on four wooden shelves made of birch, a tree that grows abundantly on the sparse topsoil of the Shield lands. I was interested in combining several primal elements in this piece: wood, rock, fire, and water. Wood and rock are referred to directly in the materials of the shelves and the glass casts. Fire is represented metaphorically in the intense heat that is required in the process of making glass and water in the ripples on the glass surfaces.

 

In 2013 I created a body of work for a solo exhibition, The Tecumseh Papers, about the great Shawnee (Anishinaabe) warrior Tecumseh, who led an alliance of Indigenous nations against colonial armies in the United States and Canada. Though Tecumseh’s resistance was ultimately defeated, his story lives on in the imaginations and aspirations of contemporary Indigenous peoples who continue to struggle for political and economic equality. A Dictionary of Names is a collection of 20 wooden panels, which depict Tecumseh’s family, allies, and enemies in pictures drawn on the torn up pages of a popular historical novel. The drawing style is derived from a pictorial tradition called “Ledger Drawings” which was used by imprisoned Indigenous warriors a hundred years ago, after the battles for North America, the so-called “Indian Wars”. The decision to record an alternative account of this history by drawing over a written English text was my way of reinscribing an Indigenous history that has largely been erased.

 

Letter to Sandy is one of a group of four diptychs created for the exhibition “Writing Home” in 2008. Each of the diptychs consists of a large format digital photograph on one side and a handwritten, hand-drawn panel on the other. The photographs were taken on the stretch of ancient rock beside the Serpent River on the Canadian Shield where I grew up. They record diverse mineral content, hint at primordial geological activity, and trace the dramatic contours of the rock that are visible there. The panels beside each photograph contain literary passages handwritten in dense graphite text, and the vestiges of maps, pictographic symbols, and machine-sewn cotton thread.

 

There is a story in the rock, not related to language or words but mute, elegiac, and undefended.

 

 

 

[1] The Anishinaabe (or Algonkian peoples) are one of most populous and widespread Indigenous linguistic groups in North America, comprising many tribes along the Atlantic coast, the St Lawrence River, and around the vast territory of the Great Lakes, including much of Canada east of the Rocky Mountains.

[1]The Anishinaabe include numerous tribes or nations: Ojibwe/Chippewa, Ottawa, Potawatomi, Shawnee, Illiniwek, Kickapoo, Menominee, Miami, Sauk, Fox, and many others.

 

Representative Works

Letter to William, diptych, giclee print, graphite and cotton thread on paper (overall 76.2 x 121.92cm), 2008

A Dictionary of Names, 20 pieces, coloured pencil and acrylic, torn up pages of historical novel on wooden panel, (30.48 x 22.86cm), 2013

Canoe, Bonnie Devine, mixed media with the artist’s thesis notes exploring the discovery of Uranium on her home territory, mining operations and the ecological disaster that followed and continues to plague her community, thread, twine, beads used to sew together a story or spirit boat in the traditional form of the rice gatherer canoe from instructions by Algonkian elder William Commanda, (91.44  x 457.2 x  60.96cm), 2003