Oakville Galleries in Gairloch Gardens
Organized and circulated by the Canadian Museum of Contemporary Photography, an affiliate of the National Gallery of Canada
Jeff Thomas is an Iroquois/Onondaga photographer and curator who now lives in Ottawa, Ontario. For several decades his work has investigated how Native peoples are represented in an urban context. In a recent website statement he wrote that very early on, while living in his hometown of Buffalo, New York, he questioned "why Iroquoian history was not being taught in my history class, especially since the city of Buffalo, New York, sits atop the former Buffalo Creek Reservation." Questions such as this one went unanswered. As a result he created his own photographic project that began to take shape in the early 1980s. This project examined the connections and discrepancies between historical depictions of Native peoples and modern Native identity.
Throughout his career, Thomas has presented the image of the Indian as one that is constantly being defined. In this exhibition he continues to seek out examples of aboriginal people that exist in city statues and monuments. It seems to Thomas that Indians are everywhere and nowhere, real and not real; they peer out from shadowy architectural recesses and gaze quietly over the wide expanses of rivers. Modern Indians, however, do not conform to the stereotypical portrayals wearing buckskin clothing and feathered headdresses often seen in urban monuments. Clothed in contemporary garb, these Indians are, in a sense, invisible, and must be framed, photographed and placed within new contexts to convey the complexity of their position within contemporary society.
Seen together in Scouting for Indians, Thomas's photographs question commonly held ideas of authority and history, and the narrow, often exclusive parameters in which these notions become formed and solidified.