Jessie Ray Short’s Wake Up! raises questions around identity as a femme-presenting Métis person confronted with self-reflection in the face of the ongoing reality of colonialism. The work captures the artist’s transformation through clothing, make-up, and a moustache, taking on the persona of eighteenth-century Métis political leader Louis Riel.
In his short life, Riel was a former member of the House of Commons of Canada who had concerns about his safety in entering parliament; he also led two rebellions against the Government of Canada and John A. Macdonald. He is primarily referred to as a captivating leader defending the Métis people from unfair treatment resulting from the progressing colonization of the newly established Canadian government. Riel was captured and imprisoned in Regina after the Northwest Rebellion of 1885, convicted of high treason, and subsequently executed. Due to this history, Riel remains a central figure in Métis history, culture, and identity.
Short’s practice considers the symbols of Métis culture, and how we might integrate them into the present while leaving room for a culture to flourish and grow. Wake Up! asks how the legacy of a celebrated leader from over a century ago can remain the primary touchstone for a culture that remains alive and active. The work asks, “Do you know who Métis people are? How do you explain a culture in small talk?” Re-examining the cultural significance of Louis Riel allows us to consider the ways in which we can question representation while still respecting the importance this history holds.
Sited on the east side of the Independent Building at the intersection of Broadway and Kingsway, Vancouver
Presented in partnership with grunt gallery, organizers of the Mount Pleasant Community Art Screen