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.
Jessie Ray Short is an artist, filmmaker and independent curator whose cross disciplinary practice involves memory, visual culture and Métis history. In the past 10 years they have exhibited work nationally and internationally at venues including The Banff Centre for the Arts, M:ST Performative Arts Festival, Calgary AB, and at the Wairoa Māori Film Festival in Wairoa, Aotearoa (NZ). Jessie Ray has been the recipient of several grants from the Canada Council for the Arts, Ontario Arts Council and the Alberta Foundation for the Arts. As a curator they have had the opportunity to work on various projects most notably Jade Carpenter: Mourn at City of Calgary Open Spaces Gallery and Mixed Berries: Amanda Strong and Bracken Hanuse Corlett at Gallery 2, Grand Forks, BC. Short has worked for the Ociciwan Contemporary Art Collective, based in Edmonton, AB, and currently works as a program coordinator for TRUCK Contemporary Art in Calgary, AB. Jessie Ray holds an MA degree from Brock University with a focus on contemporary Métis visual culture.
Further details can be found on the Capture Photography Website here.
Image: Jessie Ray Short, still from Wake Up!, 2015, video with sound, 5:58 min. Courtesy of the Artist.