2011: The Indian Truckhouse of High Art

2011: The Indian Truckhouse of High Art

2011 October 1st Mi’kmaq Treaty Day on the streets of Halifax

An excerpt of Treaty of 1752 was used as part of this performance.

4. It is agreed that the said Tribe of Indians shall not be hindered from, but have free liberty of Hunting and Fishing as usual and that if they shall think a Truck house needful at the River Chibenaccadie, or any other place of their resort they shall have the same built and proper Merchandize, lodged therein to be exchanged for what the Indians shall have to dispose of and that in the mean time the Indians shall have free liberty to being to Sale to Halifax or any other Settlement within this Province, Skins, feathers, fowl, fish or any other thing they shall have to sell, where they shall have liberty to dispose thereof to the best Advantage.

Read the complete Treaty of 1752 on Cape Breton University website

Oct. 1 of every year marks the time of year the Mi’kmaq and the Crown reaffirm the 1752 Treaty of Peace and Friendship.

In 2011 Johnson dressed in the traditional clothes Mi’kmaq women would have worn in the early 1800s when they would go to Halifax’s Byward Market to sell their baskets and goods. In this performance Johnson practised her treaty right and liberty to sell her wares and the liberty to dispose of anything to her best advantage.

The Indian Truckhouse of High Art featured  items that Johnson collected from various discount stores in Halifax that sold what she considered to be “culturally appropriated or stereotype perpetuating”. These were the items of which she wished to dispose of.

Each item at The Indian Truckhouse of High Art was accompanied by a handmade tag attached with a hand spun/dyed piece of yarn made by Johnson, stating:

This object is 100% Authentic Indian High Art. Made in Mi’kmaki.

On the reverse side of the tag is a price for the yarn. All prices ranged from $17.20 to $17.90, dates of Treaties between the Mi’kmaq and the Crown.

Ursula Johnson: Of Craft and Cultural Survival (Canadian Art, June 4, 2014 by Alison Cooley)

Excerpt from interview with Canadian Art:

“There’s always a struggle that happens in my mind in regards to the authentic versus the inauthentic. That’s also because I’m a bit of a research junkie, so whenever I research something, especially within my own practice, I always look at the question, “What is the definition of authenticity, and who determines if something is authentic or not?”

That’s something that I like to play with in my practice. I have a performance that I’ve done quite a number of times called The Indian Truckhouse of High Art, where I take on the character of this street pedlar who has all these objects—but they’re all mass-produced, appropriated objects that I found in dollar stores that are considered to be “Indian-looking,” or stereotypically kind of Indian. I have a hand-dyed piece of yarn that’s attached to each object, with a tag that says “This object is 100% authentic Indian high art,” and on the backside is a price tag. But the object that the tags are actually referring to is the hand-dyed yarn, not the object that I’ve bought from the dollar store. The prices on the back of them all range from $17.20 to $17.90, which reflect the consecutive dates of treaties between the Mi’kmaw and the crown, from 1720 to 1790.

This character sits on the street, and all of these people come by, and she doesn’t speak very much English—she can say, like, “money,” “sale,” Halifax,” “buy,” but then the rest of it is in Mi’kmaw, and it kind of plays on this idea of the exoticized tourism object. It’s really funny when I do it on the streets of Halifax in the summertime, and it’s like, “Oh,wow! Look at this beautiful dreamcatcher! Oh, this one here has a wolf on it!” And everyone’s so excited—but it’s all come from the dollar store, and nobody cares about the tag, or the interaction. They don’t think about what is being presented to them as an authentic artifact, or a tourism commodity, or whatever. I like playing with those ideas of authenticity or inauthenticity.

Artist Statement
Curriculum Vitae

Images: Colleena Gunnells
Images: Edgewood Studios (studio shot of ‘Truckhouse Artifacts’)