Métis artist Rosalie Favell creates her own kind of hero in new AGO exhibition

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Métis artist Rosalie Favell creates her own kind of hero in new AGO exhibition
Rosalie Favell. Holding Her Ground (edition 3/5), 2021. Inkjet print, Overall: 50.8 × 76.2 cm. Courtesy of the artist. © Rosalie Favell.

TORONTO.- Opening at the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) on June 24, 2023, Rosalie Favell: Portraits of Desire presents a selection of poignant and wryly humorous photographs and paintings by Métis artist Rosalie Favell. Surveying four decades of artmaking, the works highlight Favell’s on-going quest to locate her place in the world — be it through the surfacing of family photographs, the adoption of new identities or re-figuring art history. The exhibition is curated by Wanda Nanibush, AGO Curator of Indigenous Art and organized by the AGO.

Born in Winnipeg in 1958, Favell was 10 years old when she was given her first camera. Overlaying personal experience, family history and pop culture with text, her diary-style approach to artmaking blends mediums and art historical references, to create oil paintings, self portraits and digital collages.

“I see the photograph as a performance space, where identity is constantly worked and reworked, represented and perhaps hidden,” says Favell. “Bringing my family back into the living world is an act that can be imaged and imagined through photography.”

On view in the J.S. McLean Centre for Indigenous & Canadian Art and Favell’s first solo at the AGO, the exhibition features works from four series, Plain(s) Warrior Artist (1999-2003), Wish You Were Here (2011), The Collector (2019) and her most recent body of work, Family Legacy, from 2021.

“Favell has sought through art a means to explore her own Indigenous identity, unbound by authenticity debates or stereotypes,” says Wanda Nanibush, AGO Curator of Indigenous Art. “Revealing and bold, her love of photography and of being photographed, shines an important light on Métis identity, Indigenous futures and same-sex desire. Last seen here in 2021, I am very pleased to welcome her and her work back to the AGO.”

In her pursuit of a hero that she could identify with, Favell discovered that she had to create her own hero. This led to the creation of her Plain(s) Warrior Artist series, in which she inserts herself into scenarios, rendering them both familiar and new. In both Opening New Frontiers (2003) and I dreamed of Being a Warrior (1999) Favell embodies the fictional television character Xena Warrior Princess, and in doing so draws out the implied lesbian desire present in the original TV series. Originally a photo collage, and recently redone in oil on linen, I awoke to find my spirit had returned (2018), casts Favell as Dorothy in a scene taken from the end of the film The Wizard of Oz, when she awakes to realize it was all a dream. Looming over her, in place of the Wizard of Oz, is the figure of 19th century Métis leader Louis Riel. The title of the work comes from a quote often attributed to Riel, "My people will sleep for one hundred years and when they awake, it will be the artist that gives them their spirit back...". In this work, Favell suggests, akin to the fictional Dorothy, “that everything that we need is right inside of us, that all roads lead to home.”

In a later series, Wish You Were Here (2011), Favell juxtaposes her grandmother’s photographs with her own images. In doing so, Favell revisits her grandmother’s journeys and continues the tradition of being an Indigenous woman both in front of and behind the camera. In a statement about this series Favell writes, “I have entitled this series ‘wish you were here’ to express both her sentiments and mine for her. I wish she were here.”

Originally conceived in 2005 as a photo-collage and here reproduced in oil paint, The Collector/The Artist in Her Museum (2019) is Favell’s wry send up of American painter Charles Willson Peale’s 1822 self-portrait. In contrast to Peale’s depiction of himself displaying his many artifacts, all neatly boxed and categorized in his own museum, in Favell’s version, she replaces the specimens with family photos, the fossils with a living beaver and the subject, with herself. Acknowledging that family photo albums are a kind of collection, she remakes the museum in her own image – welcoming visitors into her world, where Indigenous peoples, like herself, can exhibit their own culture and history.

In her own family history, she finds a means to understand her identity and Métis roots. Favell’s most recent series, Family Legacy (2021), integrates family photographs and documents, postcards, automobile brochures and DNA charts with images of the prairie landscape, fantastical sci-fi imagery and historical documentation such as Métis scrip. The series, for her, is an important declaration on the rights and identity of Métis people.

Rosalie Favell is a photo-based artist, born in Winnipeg, Manitoba, and now based in Ottawa. To date Rosalie’s work has explored the relation of photography to issues of identity. Over the course of her long career, Favell’s work has appeared in exhibitions in Canada, the US, Edinburgh, Scotland, Paris, France, Taipei, Taiwan and Melbourne, Australia. Numerous institutions have acquired her artwork including: National Gallery of Canada (Ottawa), Canadian Museum of Contemporary Photography (Ottawa), Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian (Washington, D.C.), and Global Affairs, Canada. A graduate of Toronto Metropolitan University, Rosalie holds a Master of Fine Arts degree from the University of New Mexico and a PhD (ABD) from Carleton University in Cultural Mediations. In Ottawa, Rosalie has taught at Carleton University, the University of Ottawa and Discovery University.

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