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Daphne Odjig, CM, OBC, LLD, RCA | A Tribute to Courage

The Penticton Art Gallery is honoured to present this major exhibition of work by the renowned Canadian artist and Penticton resident Daphne Odjig. It’s been a long time in coming and we owe a great deal of debt to the Kamloops Art Gallery and in particular Dawn Vernon and Jann Bailey for their time and assistance in the preparation and loan of the works in this exhibition. This important body of work form part of the Permanent Collection of the Kamloops Art Gallery and is a near complete record of all the graphic work produced by Daphne over her illustrious career. This important collection documents the evolution of Odjig's art from its dynamic, politically-charged roots to the softer, more lyrical forms she is best known for and identified with today.

Daphne Odjig is one of Canada’s most celebrated Aboriginal painters and printmakers. Born in 1919 on Manitoulin Island’s Wikwemikong Reserve of Odawa, Potawatomi and English heritage, she first learned about art-making from her grandfather, Jonas Odjig, a stone carver who taught her to draw and paint. From him, she learned not only the legends of her ancestors also the use of curvilinear design for which she has become so well known.

Daphne Odjig later moved to British Columbia and continued to work on her art career.  Her style has undergone several developments and adaptations from decade to decade and yet always remains identifiable. Mixing traditional Aboriginal styles and imagery with Cubist and Surrealist influences, Odjig’s work is defined by curving contours, strong outlining, overlapping shapes and an unsurpassed sense of colour. Her work has addressed issues of colonization, the displacement of Aboriginal peoples, and the status of Aboriginal women and children, bringing Aboriginal political issues to the forefront of contemporary art practices and theory.

Odjig painted for most of her life, but it was not until the 1960's that she began to incorporate a deliberately Native perspective in her work and, like her grandfather, felt compelled to try to instruct the young about their heritage. To do so, she began to focus her art-making on the legends, joys and realities of aboriginal life, while simultaneously refining her signature style of utilizing clear colours, soft, curving contours enclosed in black outlining, transparency and overlapping of shapes and modernist, abstracted figuration.

Highly stylized portrayals of human interaction, activities and relationships, particularly in the context of Native culture, dominate Odjig's painting, drawing and printmaking. Circular motifs predominate, signifying to Odjig "completion, perfection, and ...woman,". In her own words "As an artist and as a person I have been impressed since childhood with the process that takes us from the inner image to the external reality of an image. For me it has been an endless source of delight and wonderment that awareness, thoughts and recognitions can come seemingly unbidden from an inner source that, in adulthood, I learned to call the unconscious. I know now as an adult, that every one of us is a fusion of the eternal, of ancestral wisdom or caution as well, a seer of the future but some part of us always remains capable of responding to here and now with originality."

Odjig became a founding member of the first Canadian Native-run printmaking operation, the Canadian Professional Native Artist Association, or the "Native Group of Seven" as they were described in the 70's. By this time, she was exhibiting her work several times a year and had already gained international exposure in the US, Europe and Japan. In 1978 she was presented with an Eagle Feather by Chief Wakageshig on behalf of the Wikwemikong Reserve, in recognition of her artistic accomplishments — an honour previously reserved for men to acknowledge prowess in hunt or war.

Over the last few years there have been numerous exhibitions of Daphne Odjig's works touring across North America. Forty years of her prints have been shown in Kamloops, BC and the Museum of Civilization in Ottawa, ON; while forty years of her originals were shown in Sudbury and Klienburg, ON;  Kamloops, BC; The Institute of American Indian Art in Sante Fe, NM; Regina, SK and the National Gallery in Ottawa where Daphne was the firstAboriginal female to be given a major solo exhibition.

Documentaries by the CBC, the National Film Board and Tokyo Television have been made about Odjig and she's completed commissions for Expo '70 in Japan, the Royal Ontario Museum, and the 27-foot mural at the Museum of Civilization, "The Indian in Transition".

Daphne Odjig’s numerous awards include Honorary Doctorates of Letters from Laurentian University and the University of Toronto and more recently from Okanagan University College in June 2002, Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops in 2007, an appointment to The Order of Canada, and the election to the Royal Canadian Academy of Art. In 2007, she was also given the Governor General award for Lifetime Achievemnet in the Visual Arts followed by ivestiture into the Order of British Columbia.

Reflecting back on her legacy Daphne has said: "If my work as an artist has somehow helped to open doors between our people and the non-Native community, then I am glad. I am even more deeply pleased if it has helped to encourage the young people that have followed our generation to express their pride in our heritage more openly, more joyfully than I would have ever dared to think possible.

I see my paintings as a celebration of life. My sub-conscious mind may well dictate some content and I’m content to leave it at that. I am uncomfortable with words — my paintings are perhaps my most honest and legitimate statement.”