“I am a storyteller who paints with fabric and draws with thread.” – Blair Treuer
The “Portraits” series is an exploration into the role Ojibwe traditional cultural practices and beliefs plays in shaping the way my family sees itself collectively, the role it takes in shaping the personal identities of my husband and my nine children, and the influences or effect it’s had on my own personal identity. As a white woman, the only non-native person in my immediate family, this exhibit is about my reflections as an outsider and about the emotional rollercoaster I often ride as I stand fixed on the outside, but privileged enough to look in. This exhibition is not just about the pieces of Ojibwe culture I’ve been allowed to see, but also what it’s allowed me to see within myself, and even to recognize what cannot be found there.
My children’s participation in a particular ceremony required me to make blankets as a part of their offering. As these blankets were made as a spiritual offering, the process was very spiritual for me. Because it was the only way I could contribute as a non-native woman, I poured everything I had into those offerings. I taught myself this art form and now I cannot seem to let this love affair with fabric go.
Even still, though my work is no longer ceremonial, it’s very spiritual for me. An image comes to me first. The images are like visions that nag at me, much like a dream you’ve had that you can’t stop thinking about. I feel inspiration channeling through me faster than my fingers can move. When the piece is finished, I ask myself…What was this meant to communicate to me?
The goldfinch is a constant in my work. It is the language bird in Ojibwe culture. In my work however, I’ve expanded their representation to include the entire Ojibwe cultural and spiritual “tool box” if you will, which also includes the language. What I’ve experienced with Ojibwe culture and spirituality is that it is so much deeper than …this is what we traditionally eat and traditionally wear, or this is our traditional language or music…it all means layers upon layers more than that…those things explain how to connect to the earth, to the spirits that dwell here, to each other, and to one’s self. Those things are saturated with meaning. The birds represent that depth of knowledge and understanding that my family and other Ojibwe people who follow a traditional path possess about who they are, where they come from, and what their purpose is while they are here.
The decisions I make when I am creating a piece are not what will the image be, I feel like that is instead decided for me. So the decisions I make are on how to best recreate the image in my head. It’s not until the end that I ask myself, now what does this mean? Often the meaning comes in waves or layers over time and sometimes this revelation can take months. And like the interpretation of a dream. You as an observer may have insights into the meaning that either are, or are for the time being, lost on me. These images may speak to you in a way they do not speak to anyone else. For several of the portraits included in the show, the story has not yet completely unveiled itself for me yet, it is in the process of slowly unfolding. And for the pieces I feel I’ve adequately deciphered, I still continue to make new connections, to see things that I hadn’t before.
I am a storyteller who paints with fabric and draws with thread.
More of Blair’s work can be seen at blairtreuer.com