Two-Spirit Sur-Thrivance and the Art of Interrupting Narratives at Never Apart

by Dion Smith-Dokkie

Introducing our social media coordinator, Dion Smith-Dokkie

by Dion Smith-Dokkie
May 23, 2017

Centre Never Apart’s Two-Spirit Sur-Thrivance and the Art of Interrupting Narratives, features work by Kent Monkman, Dayna Danger, Jeffrey McNeil-Seymour, Preston Buffalo, and Fallon Simard curated by Jeffrey McNeil Seymour and Michael Venus. The show’s title, Two-Spirit Sur-Thrivance references Gerald Vizenor’s survivance. Of survivance, Vizenor writes

Native survivance is an active sense of presence over absence, deracination, and oblivion; survivance is the continuance of stories, not a mere reaction, however pertinent. Survivance is greater than the right of a survivable name. Survivance stories are renunciations of dominance, detractions, obstructions, the unbearable sentiments of tragedy, and the legacy of victimry. Survivance is the heritable right of succession or reversion of an estate and, in the course of international declarations of human rights, is a narrative estate of native survivance. (Vizenor, 1)

From the outset, then, Two-Spirit Sur-Thrivance positions the works shown as continuations of Indigenous ways of knowing the world (epistemologies). The works and their creators are supported by their communities, cultures, and lands and given context by them. What interests me in this point is the interplay between hegemonic LGBTA+/QT2 (see 1) (sub)culture and culturally-embedded understandings of gender, sex and sexuality, specifically the navigations between two worlds.

What further interests me are the worlds created by the artworks. The work of the artists becomes personal cartography on embodiment and ethno-cultural belonging and negotiation; the show explicitly makes space for Two-Spirit artists to assert and narrate their existence. The space itself becomes a place of community-development or perhaps community envisioning, allowing viewers to weave threads between artists who produce work in diverse forms, who issue from different contexts and thus hold different ways of being Two-Spirited. Taken together, this dialogue provides outsiders with a space for education and gratitude; for insiders, a place to be reflected, witnessed.

Dayna Danger, a queer, Metis/Ojibwe/Polish artist, provided three pieces for the exhibition. A dual/split-screen video shows two people from the waist down, wearing antlers in harnesses around their hips, locking horns so as to emulate a caribou or deer. The second screen shows two people locked in an embrace, one holding the other. There are three beaded, wrestling masks made from black leather and beads. Danger works with land-based imagery as well as the visual language of BDSM; the intimate, tender, and tough aspects of her work ground the show wonderfully.

Kent Monkman’s work features prominently, including prints and preparatory sketches for various paintings – including The Impending Storm, located at the Montreal Musee des Beaux-Arts – the recently minted Team Miss Chief patch, and notably, Miss Chief’s Praying Hands, clasping, red silicone hands in the form of a daunting buttplug, all of which continue with the artist’s penetrating, devil-may-care exploration of Indigeneity, sexuality, camp and narrative.

Fallon Simard includes two videos made from analog photographs, Mercury Poisoning and TerraNullius5000, both which discuss human capacities to relate to the land and the effect of human intervention and relating on the land. The digital interventions in the photograph developed an intense metaphor for human mediation in nature.

Preston Buffalo’s prints offer colourful reflections on the show’s themes. For example, in Pink Blue we see two half-bodies covered in digitally manipulated faces, with tendrils reaching from each one to the other. The surplus of identity in conjunction with the cleft halves of a body creates an interesting commentary on belonging and embodied archives.

Jeffrey McNeil-Seymour’s Unsettling combines a red dress, which has become a symbol of justice for Indigenous women who have experienced violence and, at present, of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, with a fabric map of the Indigenous nations of Turtle Island. The combination of political impetus, cartography and decoloniality, and fibre practices results in a haunting work.

The current shows are up until June 16, 2017. Centre Never Apart is located at 7049 Rue St-Urbain, Montreal and is open to the public from 12:00 PM to 5:00 PM Saturdays.

  1. Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, Ally or Asexual + (indicates there are more/infinite ways of identifying) / Queer, Trans, 2-Spirit


Vizenor, Gerald Robert. Survivance: narratives of Native presence. Lincoln, Neb.: U of Nebraska Press, 2009. Print.