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Reflections on Quill Christie-Peters’ “spilling out, spilling over”

Reflections on Quill Christie-Petersspilling out, spilling over (2021)
Displayed at the University of Saskatchewan College Art Galleries
January 14 – April 22, 2022

Quill Violet Christie-Peters, Desire spilling over body and time, N.D., acrylic on canvas. Courtesy of the artist.

At first glance, the style of Quill Christie-Peters’ paintings appears steeped in the traditions of much Indigenous art that came before, as well as those pieces that are still held up as the epitome of “Indigenous Art”. Curved lines, circles, bright and interminglings of colour. And yet, there is a significant factor at play: for whom does the artist create her work? The art of Quill Christie-Peters is a feast for the heart and a soothing touch for the bodies we make homes in as Indigenous women, Two-Spirits, and Queer folks. Her paint strokes are movement on canvas, circles widening and closing, ever-changing. Nothing is static, because the only static culture is a dead one. Everything regenerates and nothing is wasted – neither in space on the canvas nor the blood that has left our bodies by the pull of the moon.

In Desire spilling over body and time, N.D., acrylic on canvas, Christie-Peters is at her most curious, playful, and tempestuous self. The piece is a whirlwind of softly blended yet starkly visible individual elements, with splashes of colour blending into one another while still retaining clear shape and form. The character depicted in the paintings has long, voluminous black hair and a black patch of pubic hair, with brown skin and brown nipples. Their arms appear strong and slender with broad shoulders. Their expression appears to indicate peaceful thoughts, while the confusion of boundaries suggests a near-dissolve, as though the character and the background (that is, the land) are inextricable.

Given the context of Christie-Peters’ works, and my own conversations with the artist, I know this overflow of boundaries is quite deliberate and highly political. While the dark-haired person depicted and their very embodied being spills into the circular, joyful purples and oranges and bright blues, the people (and the creatures) retain their agential form. Not a single element of the painting is ever completely lost to the gentle circular motions of time, timelessness, and rebirth. This technique illuminates a distinction between the assimilative project of the Canadian state and the practices we draw from our own notions of interconnectivity. Unlike the expectations placed on Indigenous people of fully integrating into Canada to be secured a good life, many of us are choosing to do exactly what we want. We create art which brings us the deep joys no form of recognition ever could, because to do anything else is – quite simply – a waste of time.

In Making my homelands shake and feel good too, 2018, acrylic on canvas, Christie-Peters invokes spirits that link outer space, the earth, and our erotic, messy insides. Creating art about our own pleasure in such a way is not what this country wants of Indigenous artists.

Settlers desire the “sacred”, they desire to be “let in” to Indigeneity and all of its perceived magic and secrets, while at the same time marking our very bodies as disposable. Making my homelands shake and feel good too hints at the inextricability of land from body and furthermore, how the most “sacred” of our responsibilities as Indigenous women is being a “lifegiver”, that is, reproducing. The suggested portrayal of menstruation as something just as natural a process as pregnancy or birthing; sacredness, reclaimed for our own damn selves, and not for the intensely dehumanizing pressure of “(re)building a nation”.

Blood is everywhere, but it is not horrific. Blood grows from the ground and it lines sheets of birchbark on trees. Blood in flowers and the darkness of the forest may seem strange; but with the artist’s skill, they prompt a righteous fearlessness. Another crucial spark here is the explicit association of the process of menstruation and menstrual blood with pleasure. Rather than teaching us to fear menstruation or allowing girls and women to go their entire lives believing that menstruation must equal pains that we are bound to endure, Christie-Peters invites back joy to the event.

No, our sacredness is not in the amount of pain we can endure. No, our sacredness is not in the amount of restraint and obedience and self-sacrifice we practice. Our sacredness is not based on colonial notions of “cleanliness” and the extra efforts some genders must undertake to be considered “clean”. In fact, our sacredness is inherent in that we are a part of the earth, irremovable, eternally. Everything regenerates.

As Indigenous artists, we – and our work, but also, our very selves – are only accepted when we adhere to specific forms, methods, and even mediums that fit a notion of what “Indigenous art” is and can be. Canada dictates what we do create by the very fact of its existence. Canada: that suffocating project under which we are forced to create as Indigenous artists because of colonialism that never ended.

Yet even the greatest empires fall, and as Indigenous peoples, we have memories existing ages before this country was even glimpsed or imagined by colonizers. More than memories, more than the past (though precious), we have artists and many others (re)creating not only the future but the present moment. It is in this sphere where the artist shines – her work is topical and necessary, now.

In the exhibition spilling out, spilling over, Quill Christie-Peters demonstrates her sharply honed talent, fully stepping into her own as an artist while building a respite from expectation and respectability. Playing with typical ideas of “acceptable” topic material for Indigenous artwork and oftentimes obliterating them entirely, Christie-Peters. Offering representation is not necessarily our obligation as Indigenous artists but being careful, kind, and deliberate with one another is a valuable teaching, distinct from the former.

Quill Christie-Peters’ artistry is nothing short of a manifesto toward sensuality, a life beyond borders, and a show of embodied power to spite those who would name us conquered, savage, unclean, and undesirable. These paintings invoke echoes and blueprints, individual stars and constellations. With spilling out, spilling over, Quill Christie-Peters has found her style (as it exists, at this moment), mastered the necessary techniques, and indisputably established herself as one of the leading artists in the country.

January 2022

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Quill Christie-Peters’ website is here. You can view the gallery exhibit page here.

Kinanaskomitin to Quill for trusting me to reflect upon your wondrous work.