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International Women’s Day: Five Indigenous Women Artists

In 2016, the National Museum of Women in the Arts (NMWA) asked, “can you name five women artists?” on social media in the lead up to Women’s History Month in the U.S. Using the hashtag #5WomenArtists, the campaign called attention to the fact that women have not been treated equally in the art world, and today they remain dramatically underrepresented and undervalued in museums, galleries, and auction houses.

Each year, hundreds of cultural organizations and thousands of individuals take to social media to answer the challenge, sparking a global conversation about gender equity in the arts. Within this question lie even more layers of oppression, including the underrepresentation of BIPOC women. Today in honour of International Women’s Day we’re featuring five incredible Indigenous women artists who have works in the MOA Collections

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Debra Sparrow working on swəw̓q̓ʷaʔɬ (Blanket) [MOA Collection 3356/1] in the Museum. Photo by Alina Ilyasova.

Debra Sparrow θəliχʷəlʷət (Musqueam)

“Creativity is a gift. And to honour it in a good way I use creativity to give back to all of you.”

Debra Sparrow was born and raised on the Musqueam Indian Reserve and is a Musqueam weaver, artist and knowledge keeper. She is self-taught in Salish design, weaving and jewellery-making. Sparrow has been deeply involved with the revival of the Musqueam weaving tradition for more than 30 years. Her artwork is exhibited nationally and internationally, including at MOA, the Vancouver International Airport, the Royal BC Museum, the Canadian Museum of History, the Burke Museum in Seattle, and the Smithsonian. Learn more about Debra Sparrow in this interview with MOA Director, Sue Rowley.

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Danielle Morsette with weaving. Photo courtesy of Tissus & Artisans Du Monde.

Potlatch Dress by Danielle Morsette. 2019. [MOA Collections 3339/1]

Danielle Morsette t’at’miye (Suquamish/Sto:lo)

Suquamish and Sto:lo artist t’at’miye, Danielle Morsette, weaves to connect with her ancestors—but also because she enjoys it and loves to see people proudly wearing her dresses. Morsette moved to Vancouver from the Port Madison Indian Reservation in Washington State and is from the Suquamish tribe and Stó:lō Nation Band Shxwhá:y Village. In 2003, Morsette participated in a beginners weaving class hosted by the Suquamish Youth Program taught by Marjorie Lawrence- Tulalip Tribes. She was fortunate to apprentice with the late Virginia Adams—Suquamish Tribe. Morsette’s weaving is made completely by hand using minimal tools on a traditional style loom frame. Her work includes regalia items to be worn by First Nations and Native American people as well as wall hangings made to be displayed. She has been featured in multiple art exhibitions in Washington State, Oregon State and British Columbia.

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Charlene Vickers at her exhibition, Ominjimendaan/ to remember, in front of wrapped grass. Photo courtesy of Grunt Gallery.

Sleeman Makazin by Charlene Vickers. 2011. [MOA Collections 2887/1 a-b]

Charlene Vickers (Anishinaabe)

“What is most vital to what I am doing and expressing is an ongoing process of laying down my presence and existence as Anishinabe Kwe (Ojibway Woman). My work is about survival and thriving as an artist and First Nations woman. I am part of my ancestors.”

Charlene Vickers, an Anishinaabe artist based in Vancouver, explores memory, healing and embodied connections to ancestral lands through painting, sculpture, installation and performance. Vickers, from Wauzhushk Onigum First Nation, near Kenora in northwestern Ontario, graduated from what is now the Emily Carr University of Art and Design in 1994 and earned an MFA from Simon Fraser University in 2013. She received a VIVA Award, which recognizes outstanding achievement by mid-career artists in British Columbia, in 2018. Vickers has been included in significant shows, such as Where Do We Go From Here? and Ambivalent Pleasures, both at the Vancouver Art Gallery, as well as international group shows in New Zealand and the United States.

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Professor Tania Willard. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Be a Good Girl by Tania Willard (2013). MOA collection 3087/1. Photo by Kyla Bailey.

Tania Willard (Secwepemc Nation)

Secwepemc Nation and settler heritage, Tania Willard works within the shifting ideas around contemporary and traditional, often working with bodies of knowledge and skills that are conceptually linked to her interest in intersections between Indigenous and other cultures. Willard’s curatorial work includes the touring exhibition, Beat Nation: Art Hip Hop and Aboriginal Culture (2012-2014), co-curated with Kathleen Ritter. In 2016 Willard received the Award for Curatorial Excellence in Contemporary Art from the Hanatyshyn Foundation as well as a City of Vancouver Book Award for the catalogue for the MOA exhibition, Unceded Territories: Lawrence Paul Yuxweluptun. Willard’s artistic projects have been exhibited widely and collections of her work include the Vancouver Art Gallery, Kamloops Art Gallery, Burnaby Art Gallery and more. Willard was recognized for outstanding achievement and commitment in her art practice in 2020. Willard is an Assistant Professor at UBC Okanagan in Syilx territories and her current research intersects with land-based art practices.

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Mary Anne Barkhouse. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Pendant. [MOA Collection Nb3.1478]. By Mary Anne Barkhouse. 1996. Photo by Jessica Bushey⁣

Mary Anne Barkhouse (Kwakwaka’wakw)

“Bookworm, punk rocker, metalsmith, installation artist, friend of animals, and foe to evil”: That’s how Kwakwaka’wakw artist, Mary Anne Barkhouse describes herself. Her many works include jewelry, prints, and public artworks, and examine environmental concerns, Indigenous culture, and colonization through the use of animal imagery.

“There’s a saying that ‘old punk rockers never die, they just do spoken word.’ But I might add to that and say, ‘Old punk rockers never die, they just do spoken word and installation art!'” ~Mary Anne Barkhouse.⁣

Barkhouse was born in Vancouver but has strong ties to both coasts as her mother is from the Nimpkish band, Kwakiutl First Nation of Alert Bay, BC and her father is of German and British descent from Nova Scotia. She is a descendant of a long line of internationally recognized Northwest Coast artists that includes Ellen Neel, Mungo Martin and Charlie James. ⁣