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‘The Capacity to Expand Understanding’ — How Art Inspires Placekeeping

Evergreen Elder in Residence Wyandot Elder Taǫmęˀšreˀ/Catherine Tammaro shares how placekeeping drives her work, and the connection between art and place. 

A woman sitting and viewing Image: Cam Collyer
Top image caption: Ferruccio Sardella, Watershed Consciousness, Evergreen Brick Works ‐ Image: Cam Collyer

Published on June 14, 2022

We can all recall the feeling of being moved by a work of art.  

Art possesses the unique ability to inspire, incite and deepen our understanding. That art can move us emotionally and intellectually, makes it well suited to engage community in placekeeping initiatives, says Evergreen Elder in Residence, Wyandot artist Taǫmęˀšreˀ/Catherine Tammaro.

Elder Taǫmęˀšreˀ/Catherine, born and mostly raised in Toronto is a citizen of the Wyandot of Anderdon Nation, which is part of the Wendat Confederacy. She a multidisciplinary artist, seated Spotted Turtle Clan FaithKeeper and is active in many community organizations as a mentor, teacher and cultural advisor. 

Headshot Elder Taǫmęˀšreˀ/Catherine

As Elder in Residence at Evergreen, Elder Taǫmęˀšreˀ/Catherine helps to address the lack of safe and inclusive spaces for Indigenous community members, placekeepers, educators and artists.

This month, her newest installation, Fire Over Water, will open to the public. The immersive exhibit at Crawford Lake Conservation Area in Ontario will feature original paintings, multi-media works, music, and video to honour seven women from seven generations of Wendat/Wyandot communities across the continent. 

We talked to Evergreen’s first Elder in Residence to learn about the importance of placekeeping engagement in cities and how art can be a powerful force in connecting us to place. 

How would you define placekeeping, and why is it important in cities?

Placekeeping aligns itself with things like conservation, the protection of endangered species and stewardship, activists and changemakers concerning climate change. 

In cities, there are many infrastructures that sit on top of the memories and experiences of the Original Peoples of a space. Those Peoples were colonized, affected or erased by history. The reclamation and honouring of place, the keeping of place and the connection to that place are fundamental to Indigenous people all over the world. It is the ground of our being.

How does placekeeping inform your art?

I think ultimately everything I do is about placekeeping. All my creative output — whether it’s writing, music, paintings, sculptures — are all about my relationship to this place, its history and my personhood as a mixed-race person. 

I have multiple ancestries, and before I even knew about my Indigeneity, I was making art about placekeeping from a different intellectual space however my work has always been connected to the land through various spiritual practices and honourings.

How does your newest exhibit offer insight into placekeeping?

My Ancestors are imbued in the land itself, and the show is about the history of our people as viewed through my lens, which honours our matriarchs and their connection to the land. With a focus on these community leaders and their connection to their Ancestors, their spirituality the lands and waters, the exhibit will offer valuable insight into Indigenous placekeeping.

There’s a disparate view between the settler perception of the Wendat (and Wyandot), and the Wendat and Wyandot perception of ourselves, the history of our dispersal and our connection to our Clan Mothers. I believe my work intends to unearth some questions around identity and the reality of attempted erasure and perhaps just offer space for contemplation.

 

What role can art and artists play to further placekeeping engagement in cities?

There’s just so much potential there. Most of the artists I know work with spiritual or cultural concepts. If you take a concept like placekeeping, you can create forms that represent some aspect of your community, whether that’s honouring an historical figure, our traditional dances or vocables (music). 

For example, I have a project going into Queen Street West in Toronto which will include 27 bronze plates, based on our songs and the dance patterns of our people and the Clans of the People. There are plates representing the clans of the Haudenosaunee, the Anishnabeg, the Wendat, a marker for the Inuit, the Métis and the Cree.

That fits within the concept and practice of placekeeping as it honours the pathways that indigenous people have walked through what is now Toronto. I worked with consultants from each community to ensure accurate representation and respecting of cultural boundaries. 

In terms of placekeeping practices, I believe art can trigger deep awareness like nothing else... It has the capacity to affect change in people.
Elder Taǫmęˀšreˀ/Catherin

Why is art so powerful in connecting us to place?

Art has the capacity to awaken all kinds of deep stirrings in people. A lot of the people who have looked at my work over the years have done things like cry, exclaim and laugh. Art has tremendous potential to move people emotionally. Images stimulate the brain and open the heart; engage the spirit. It can expand people’s consciousness and change someone’s will, intention or path. 

So, in terms of placekeeping practices, I believe art can trigger deep awareness like nothing else, because it is in essence placekeeping. It has the capacity to affect change in people, in cities and in the collective consciousness of humans everywhere.