Paul Seesequasis: Indigenous Archival Photo Project Installation Image

Paul Seesequasis: Indigenous Archival Photo Project

The Indigenous Archival Photo Project comes from three sources: regional Indigenous photographs from the Nelson Museum Archives and the Royal BC Archives and photographs selected from the work of photojournalist Rosemary (Gilliat) Eaton (1919 – 2004) that are with Library and Archives Canada. The result of this project has been to emancipate images from obscurity…

2018 Feb 24 – 2018 May 27

Turning the Lens: Indigenous Archival Project

Curated by Arin Fay

The images sit, thousands of them, taken over decades and filed in tidy white envelopes, boxes and drawers, in archival repositories, private collections and museums across the country. The photos are in myriad form:  negatives, colour and black-and-white prints, glass plate, daguerreotypes and tintypes. And while the digitization process has made a number of these images more accessible, they are only truly brought to life when they are seen. The efforts of Paul Seesequasis and his Indigenous Archive Photo Project have played an essential role in bringing these images into the light of day, and the hearts and minds of people across the country.  The astounding and somewhat disarming simplicity of Paul’s project is compounded by the open-hearted intention of its delivery, and backed by years of inquiry and advocacy of Indigenous issues. 

The transition from longstanding social media project to gallery was an obvious one, and had surprisingly not been done before. As Turning the Lens: Indigenous Archive Project toured across the country, the decision to add place-specific content to the Rosemary (nee Gilliat) Eaton images that Paul had sourced from the Library Archive Canada, and which represent the core content of the exhibition, was an important one. The importance of acknowledging the history, landscape and people of each given place is an essential component of this exhibition tour, as is maintaining the social media call-and-response facet of information exchange between the viewers of the photos and what is on view. For the inaugural exhibition of the tour at the Nelson Museum, Archives, & Gallery in 2018, Paul was able to source archival photos of Sinixt, Ktunaxa and Arrow Lakes people from a number of regional archives, including The Shawn Lamb Archive at Touchstones, The Royal BC Museum Archive and Kamloops Museum and Archive, in order to ground the exhibition to place and the landscape and history upon which the gallery stands

Paul Seesequasis: Indigenous Archival Photo Project Installation Image
Paul Seesequasis: Indigenous Archival Photo Project

Much like the exhibition iteration described above, Paul’s project has likewise morphed into a publication Blanket Toss Under Midnight Sun: Portraits of Everyday Life in Eight Indigenous Communities. As described by Penguin Random House this project is “an invaluable historical record, it is a meaningful act of reclamation, showing the ongoing resilience of Indigenous communities, past, present–and future.” Being a part of disseminating this work has been a highlight of my curatorial career and examples how art can be a powerful agent of change. 

Paul’s Indigenous Archive Photo Project, much like the Library and Archives Canada Project Naming which started in 2002, gives people the opportunity to revisit a past that many have never seen or do not remember, a past that sparks reminiscence and joy but also pain. While the intention of the two projects is the same, the difference is marked by the community-connectedness and irreproachable nature of Paul’s approach. By comparison, archives and museums are remarkable examples of how history has been, and continues to be, captured by colonial control, even as these institutions slowly acknowledge the need to decolonize and respond to the Truth and Reconciliation calls to action. Such naming projects are a means of correcting unspeakable wrongs and giving voice and agency to individuals who have been obscured by historical, cultural and political whitewashing. 

The photos that make up Turning the Lens: Indigenous Archive Project are powerful because they reflect an unscripted truth, illustrating people and places that deserve to be acknowledged; candid and authentic views of the lives of people connected to land, family, community and culture. The photos and what they represent are an important key to the best way forward, which is not in forgetting the past, but in naming one’s truth and carrying hope forward. 

See Also

Paul Seesequasis Artist Statement

Paul Seesequasis on Naming

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