Dana Claxton, Portraits & Regalia — Skeena Reece, It’s Love or a Photograph

[Summer 2022]

It’s Love or a Photograph – Depends on How You See It
By Skeena Reece

The Mustang Suite is a series about more than mobility. Though that’s a great place to start, to introduce you to Dana Claxton’s works; images that include literal modes of transportation are a part of the photographs’ intention. I see a mash-up of clothing from now and transportation from then, paint-up (traditional facial painting) from then and transportation from now. Dana gives us a generous spread of delicious cherry reds and piercing gazes. It feels like an invitation and an assertive stance. She’s an artist who both invites and demands; we can feel empowered and put in our place simultaneously. That’s Dana: she is quietly and unequivocally resolute in her intention to invite us to consider what we know and what we think we know about Indigenous art. She is a trailblazer for all artists.

Red, red power, red blood, seeing red, sacred red of four directions, sexy red – the colour has been prevalent throughout history, in facial paint and in the blood spilled in the name of conquering a land and people. Red is deep. We see this undeniably powerful colour throughout Dana’s works: a way of showing power? Reclamation? Depends on how you see it, but that’s how I see it. I’m an artist and mother; my name is Skeena Reece. I’m based on the west coast of British Columbia, I’m Tsimshian/Cree/Métis, and I grew up in Prince Rupert and Vancouver. I’ve known Dana for most of my life. It is my honour to speak with you about her work. Even though you are reading this, you are a participant. What you see and read is interpreted through your eyes, your mind, and where you came from. Where you came from is important to how you consider Dana’s work. If you did not grow up with a reverence for traditional ceremonial garments (what are called regalia) and traditional paint, then you may not understand the value of her images. Yes, her work demands that you look at the subject she is sharing. Its beauty is part of her intentionality. Indigenous beauty,1 as defined by Shadae Rose Johnson, isn’t about the physicality of the thing, but about the intention behind it. Living with land and respecting our cultural belongings and ceremonies is part of our beautiful way. Dana makes art against a tide of population mismanagement, resource exploitation, and the antithesis of how she was raised in order to understand the world around her. Instead of succumbing to the onslaught of adversity, she makes art, in your face and undeniable. She doesn’t make the work in spite of these complications, or because of them, but because it is what she knows. Some works can be considered liminal, a way of creating disease, even to seasoned regalia-wearing Indigenous folks…

1 “Indigenous Beauty,” panel discussion with Skeena Reece and Ray Natraoro, hosted by Shadae Rose Johnson, Vancouver Art Gallery, January 31, 2022.

[ Complete issue, in print and digital version, available here: Ciel variable 120 – FIGURES OF AFFIRMATION ]
[ Complete article and more images, in digital version, available here: Dana Claxton, Portraits & Regalia — Skeena Reece, It’s Love or a Photograph ]