Cree/Métis/Salteaux artist Lori Blondeau's Asiniy Iskwew, part of the Scotiabank Contact Festival, is on display in Devonian Square in the heart of Ryerson University's downtown campus.
Asiniy Iskwew (2016)—whose Cree words translate to “Rock Woman”—continues the artist’s interest in rocks connected to Indigenous traditions, such as petroforms (large stones or boulders outlining anthropomorphic, zoomorphic, or geometric forms), and rock art (paintings on or carvings into rock surfaces). In this series of photographs, Blondeau celebrates and gives homage to Plains Indigenous rock formations, significant ancient sites created for sacred and rite-of-passage ceremonies, and for recording battles and histories. She draws from oral histories of Mistaseni—a 400-tonne sacred boulder marking an important Indigenous gathering place that the Saskatchewan government dynamited in 1966 to make room for a man-made lake. Capturing performative interventions in the landscape, the images depict the artist standing statuesquely atop glacial boulders, draped in blood-red velvet cloth. Strong and solemn, her figure reflects the resilience of Indigenous cultures.
Situated in Devonian Square, a meeting place with a man-made pond in the centre of Ryerson’s campus, the photographs are seamlessly adhered to the contemporary site’s two-billion-year-old boulders imported from the Canadian Shield. The location resonates with its complex connections to the ancient sites of Blondeau’s research, as the Square serves as a gathering area, but one that is artificially constructed for an urban environment. This divergence points to issues of displacement and environmental preservation, offering a potent reminder of Toronto’s pre-colonial history and the controversial treaties that renounced Indigenous rights to ancestral lands. Here, Blondeau occupies the site—as if summoning its spirits—and proclaims (her) Indigenous history and irrefutable connection to the land.