Ruth Cuthand: Back Talk is a comprehensive, mid-career retrospective of one of Saskatchewan’s most significant contemporary artists. For over 30 years, this Saskatoon-based artist has been challenging mainstream perspectives on colonialism and the relationships between “settlers” and Natives in a practice marked by political invective, humour, and a deliberate crudeness of style. The exhibition brings together a comprehensive selection of artworks produced between 1983 and 2009.
Ruth Cuthand was born in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, in 1954, and is of Plains Cree and Scottish ancestry. Her works “talk back” to mainstream media and colonial society, addressing the frictions between cultures, the failures of representation, and the political uses of anger in Canada. Her subjects include “white liberal” attitudes towards Aboriginal women, the Canadian response to the 1990 Oka crisis, Mormon-Native relations in Cardston, Alberta (the artist’s childhood home), and more. Featured prominently in the exhibition is the complete suite of twelve award-winning beadworks, the Trading series, which depict, on a cellular level, the diseases that ravished First Nations upon European contact. In 2009, the MacKenzie Art Gallery in Regina received the prestigious York Wilson Endowment Award to purchase six of the beadworks; the Mendel Art Gallery owns another three.
As an artist, teacher, and cultural activist, Cuthand has been extremely influential for other artists in Saskatchewan, and contemporary Aboriginal artists across Canada. She graduated from the University of Saskatchewan with both a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree and a Master of Fine Arts degree. In 1990, she had the first solo show of her career at the MacKenzie Art Gallery. Her solo exhibition, Location/Dislocation, was held at the Mendel Art Gallery in 1993. Until recent budget cuts to the First Nations University of Canada, Cuthand taught Art and Art History at the Saskatoon Campus.