daphne Indigenous artist-run centre

"Ready to Wear" by Catherine Boivin

daphne will be Montreal’s first Indigenous artist-run centre

The gallery founders told us about their vision for a meeting place between cultures.

After several pandemic-related postponements, daphne, the first Indigenous artist-run centre in Montreal, will finally be able to open its doors this spring. The exhibition space, located in a storefront in Rosemont (at 5842 St-Hubert), will showcase Indigenous art as well as a meeting place for events and thoughtful discussions between people of all backgrounds.

“We talk often about being an Indigenous gallery, but we want it to be a space in which really interesting conversations take place,” says daphne director Lori Beavis. “A place [where] Indigenous people and allies are all there together and start to talk to each other, talk about the art, talk about these art practices, and to learn more.”

The inaugural season at daphne will include four solo exhibitions that showcase emerging and established artists working in Montreal and across Quebec, namely: Teharihulen Michel Savard, a multidisciplinary artist of the Huron-Wendat nation from Wendake; Catherine Boivin, an Atikamekw artist from Wemotaci; Innu artist Sonia Robertson from Mashteuiatsh; and Mohawk artist Kaia’tanó:ron Dumoulin Bush from Kahnawake.

“It’s really important that people get to tell their own story in a way that is true to themselves and true to the life that they lead as a person of this time,” says Beavis of the importance of such a space for First Nations artists. “They have been looked at, and everything about them has been told by white Euro-Americans, from the perspective of the other.”

daphne Indigenous art centre montreal
motif clan du chevreuil by Teharihulen Michel Savard (daphne, the first Indigenous artist-run centre in Montreal, is opening soon)

It was a conscious choice to book only solo exhibitions since they are an accolade too often denied Indigenous artists.

“It’s still far too often that artists of colour and women artists are not given solo exhibitions,” says Beavis.

Beavis explains that daphne seeks to break down the hierarchies of the art world by having the artists participate in the planning of the exhibition, which doesn’t always happen. She says that often, though an artist will be granted a solo exhibition, they don’t necessarily have the power to influence the way their art is approached or displayed.

“I want them to be okay, I want them to be absolutely certain that everything I’ve written about them is correct and from their perspective and from the perspective of their culture,” she says. “I think that we just need to bring it down and pass more responsibility to the artist so they actually have an experience that they want to have.”

“[We] are committed to creating a space in which we will all be working from a similar place/ideology,” says daphne cofounder Hannah Claus. “We’re coming from the same point de départ, which then makes for a more fluid relationship with the artists. It is more about the idea of supporting the artist’s vision so that the exhibition and experience of exhibiting is what they want it to be.”

Though they can’t say for sure when they will open since they’re waiting for provincial restrictions to ease up, the creators of daphne hope that they’ll be able to hold their long-awaited first exhibition by May. But, that doesn’t mean they’re simply waiting idly until then.

In their eagerness to get their programming started, the centre has been hosting a weekly virtual beading session called daphne beads: perler/parler, which is open to all.

Every Thursday at 7 p.m., participants can tune in to the event and work on beading projects with the guidance of guests teaching different techniques, while discussing with or listening to an artist talk about their process. Weekly event pages on their Facebook page provide those interested with instructions to access the Zoom link. So far, Beavis says the beading sessions have been a success.

“People keep talking about it and posting photos of the projects that they’ve finished on Facebook and saying, ‘This is so addictive, I’m so glad to have learned this technique,’ so it feels really nice to have people learn how to do something that has been on the periphery of their knowledge,” says Beavis.

daphne indigenous art centre montreal
“Le sang de la terre” by Sonia Robertson (daphne, the first Indigenous artist-run centre in Montreal, is opening soon)

The beading sessions are a reflection of the origin of daphne. Co-founders Skawennati, Nadia Myre and Hannah Claus, all established visual artists, came up with the idea during informal gatherings in which they would bead together and discuss the work of Indigenous artists. The centre was officially founded in April 2019 and they began working towards opening a physical space. By then, the three artists had recruited Algonquin filmmaker Caroline Monnet who came on as the fourth co-founder.

After receiving funding from the Canada Council for the Arts and the Conseil des arts de Montréal, Beavis was hired as the director in 2020. This money was also put towards opening the space and creating the programming and exhibitions. To furnish and supply the space, daphne’s creators launched a successful GoFundMe campaign.

“We rented ourselves a very accessible storefront in a part of town where it’s close to the metro,” says Beavis. “That proximity, and being so close to the sidewalk and being open and accessible, it’s so that people can break that barrier. We know how people are nervous about coming into a gallery space and so we really wanted to be a storefront so that it would be easy for people to come in and be welcomed.”

As for programming besides the exhibitions, the weekly beading sessions will remain a feature of daphne’s schedule, along with artists’ talks, feasts and video screenings. daphne’s creators want to incorporate Indigenous customs and traditions into their events and gatherings, and foster less formalized exchanges between the artists and the audience.

“We’re trying to do things slightly differently,” says Beavis. ■

(daphne, the first Indigenous artist-run centre in Montreal, is opening soon)

This feature originally appeared in the Feb. 2021 issue of Cult MTL. For updates about the opening of daphne, please visit their Instagram page.

For more Montreal arts coverage, please visit the Arts & Life section.