The Daphne Art Centre is an explosion of bright colours. Chatterbox, a solo exhibit featuring art by Kaia’tanó:ron Dumoulin Bush, 29, features a table overflowing with sketchbooks, dresses and a cast iron head of John A. McDonald.
“There’s this whole body of work that interacts between each other and within itself to give that feeling of the history of my work,” Bush said. “So it’s not just one thing speaking for itself, which I really like. I think Sherry wanted to pick things that would relate to pieces in the show but also give a dialogue for a diverse field of artistic approaches.”
A painting of an anxious woman, overwhelmed by the ocean of bad news flooding her phone screen, titled Doom Scrolling, is projected on a screen. Meanwhile, a series of brightly coloured dresses makes reference to traditional Mohawk regalia and the act of people covering up Canada Day displays with orange dresses.
Bush completed her BFA in Indigenous Visual Culture at OCAD University in Dec. 2018. She freelances and works in art education for elementary school or early high school-aged students. She has worked with Aboriginal Territories in Cyberspace and in the summer of 2018, she celebrated the publication of her first graphic novel and trilingual (Kanien’kehá, French, and English) picture dictionary – Hé:, Ahsennénhkha! (Bravo, le Milieu! -Yay, Middle!).
This is Bush’s first solo exhibition in Montreal.
One Exhibition, Three Names
The exhibit has three names: Iakoterihwatié:ni / Moulin à paroles / Chatterbox, each with slightly different meanings. Bush first decided on the French title Moulin à Paroles which translates to “word mill” and is a play on her mother’s last name Dumoulin meaning “from the mill”. Bush and curator Sherry Farrell Racette decided on the English name Chatterbox, a term that contrasts with Bush’s quiet and soft-spoken personality.
Iakoterihwatié:ni is a direct translation of Chatterbox in Mohawk.
“We really wanted to have the Mohawk title in there as well, because it situates the show as a point between the three often conflicting cultures that I, as a mixed-race person, find myself situated in,” said Bush. “This complicated social situation, where I’m an Anglophone, my mom is French Canadian and my father is Mohawk, and of the social responsibilities that come with that.”
Speaking Through Sketchbooks
The sketchbooks are the centre of the show, some of them dating back to 2013.
“That’s where all the chatter and noise comes from. The bigger works in the show jump out from the pages, some quite directly and some a little bit more indirectly,” said Bush
Bush explained that she wanted to show what she’s capable of as an artist including her illustrative work, paintings, sculpture and graphic novels. Having the sketchbooks allows the viewer a deeper dive into her process and artistic sensibilities.
Sherry Farrell Racette, the curator of the exhibit, described the sketchbooks as an “internal dialogue” as Bush processes her different realities, whether it’s personal struggles, community histories, or events taking place around her.
She explained that images from the sketchbooks may appear three or four times, creating different motifs. They’re the energy and the machine that drives the rest of the exhibit.
“When she was saying ‘Chatterbox’, I thought, well the chatter is the sketchbooks,” said Farrell Racette. “She is quite a quiet person and then there’s this explosion of colour. Sometimes people are surprised…We often think our Chatter is like words, but for her it’s images.”
Identity Through the Colour Pink
The colour pink is a recurring theme in Bush’s work. Similar to the three titles of her exhibition, she describes pink as a mix between her Quebeçois mother (white) and Mohawk father (red) coming together.
“I really love pink, it’s been one of my favorite colors my whole life,” she said. “It’s something that I really enjoy visually. Then looking for somewhere to belong colour-wise, I represent myself with the mix of those two colors.”
Bush said that she hopes that people who are half or mixed will feel seen and validated through her work.
“That’s something that I always hoped for in my work. I think all my work is about that in one way or another. It’s inseparable,” said Bush. “I hope that there are also people who are able to see the resilience and humor in the show.”
Resilience Through Humor
Alongside the table of sketchbooks and vibrant paintings on the wall, is a cast-iron head of John A. McDonald.
On opening night, Bush made chocolates in the shape of John A. McDonald’s head and handed them out to everyone who attended the show. Bush described it as a performance that everyone could participate in as well as her favourite piece in the show.
“They get to go home and eat it and then flush him down the toilet the next morning,” she said. “I think it goes in the same line as the two orange dresses in the back room. It’s little ways to resist. Thinking about the women who covered the Canada Day displays with orange dresses, and then being able to flush John A McDonald; it’s these little acts of everyday resistance that I’m interested in, in this show.”
Chatterbox will be on display from Oct. 30, 2021 to Dec. 18, 2021.
Olivia is a Montreal-based journalist who loves writing about arts, culture and identity. Fueled by espresso, you’ll most likely find her scribbling a story idea in her notebook or detangling her hair.