David Garneau, a Métis visual arts professor at the University of Regina, is the creator of an art exhibit, Métissage, at the U of C’s Nickle Galleries until April 22.
However, it’s more than an art showcase because it represents Garneau’s Métis heritage and his struggle to find his own contemporary Indigenous identity. Garneau’s great-great grandfather, Laurent Garneau, fought in the Red River Resistance alongside Louis Riel, between 1869 to 1870. To this day Garneau’s legacy lives on having one of Edmonton’s neighborhoods named after him.
Garneau knows of his heritage, but growing up the term Métis was unfamiliar to him and how it fits with his identity.
“Those designations were not super important at the time,” said Garneau. “But it really wasn’t until just before moving to Regina in 1999, a couple of years before that I started deciding, I’m going to start making work about this.”
The truth behind the art
How The West Was, one of the 53 art pieces on display at the exhibit, was one of Garneau’s first works that displayed his Métis identity.
A common theme is Garneau’s search for meaning in the word ‘Métis’ and the duality of a Métis identity.
Michele Hardy, a curator and the interim director at the Nickle Galleries, believes in the importance of Garneau’s art because it teach people to explore other perspectives aside from their own.
“I think that David is not afraid to make us a little uncomfortable and his art is a safe way to make us feel uncomfortable,” Hardy said.
Displayed in his piece Ways of Knowing and Being is a bison skull and a cow skull to show the Indigenous and the European roles to play within the Métis identity, and represent how it is not all one side or the other, but rather a dialogue between the two sides.
Comfort in his own identity
Garneau refers to the duality of being Métis as a learning experience, with both the Indigenous and European sides providing learnings through a unique dynamic.
“It’s not all one thing, it’s a variety of things, it’s a discourse, it’s a dialogue,” said Garneau. “There’s this idea that we have learning that comes from both sides. But what side do you favor at one time or another? You move back and forth.”
The messages displayed within the exhibit, through a variety of different artistic styles, captures the essence of Garneau’s identity, and how his identity has formed his art style.
“What does it mean to be a contemporary person who is Métis and how many of those things linger into the present and how much do you let go?” said Garneau. “So a lot of my searching, which you see in the exhibition, is trying to figure out what does that mean?”