Soundings: Greg Staats

Greg Staats

(Skarù:ręˀ - maternal / Kanien’kehá:ka)
Ohsweken, Six Nations of the Grand River Territory 1963
Currently based in Tkaronto, Mississaugas of the Credit, Hodinöhsö:ni’, Anishinabewaki ᐊᓂᔑᓈᐯᐗᑭ, and Wendake-Nionwentsïo Territory

Do’-gah - I don’t know [shrugging shoulders]
Archival canvas matte print, oil, earth, indian tobacco ash edition 1 of 3
Indigenous Art Collection, Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada

If the Hodinöhsö:ni’ perception of monument relies on the good mind, and if our values are realized in the daily recitation of the Ganö:nyök [Thanksgiving Address], which places our minds, bodies and footsteps in creation, countervailing trauma, can this process itself then be seen as monument?

Land is the Hodinöhsö:ni’ monument for where we place our feet. Earth is where we remember. To sustain the integrity of the good mind and cultural safety when dealing with trans communal relations, it is imperative that I remain hyper-vigilant that misinformation is assimilation.

Our ways to remembering are dependent on the ability to express our values in relation to the Land and its truth. It is with this in mind that I created Do’-gah, a multi-layered response and relational strategy brought forward from my on-reserve lived experience.

Do-gah - I don’t know [shrugging shoulders] is a performative gestural mnemonic work whose source comes from my grade school Mohawk lesson handouts and the word/gesture as experienced within my community. The viewer is requested to perform all 60 phrases with and without the gestured shrugging. Carrying many levels of meaning, the work speaks to a systemic forgetting, lateral violence and trauma.

1. I do know, but I refuse to tell you, just for today.
2. I need to remind you, that you can’t know everything.
3. I don’t know, and because you asked me and expect a detailed answer, I feel shame and anger at once for the irony of the colonial systemic deficits and for your extractive expectation of presumed knowledge.
4. I don’t know, and I refuse to find out for you.
5. I’ve heard you, and will think about it. Time and reflection for considered response of what I shall tell you on my own time and to ensure cultural safety.
6. I do know, and I need to tell you the protocols of our relations moving forward.
7. I don’t know - my language.

Text provided by artist

Greg Staats is Skarù:reˀ [Tuscarora] / Kanien’kehá:ka [Mohawk], Hodinöhsö:ni’. b. 1963, Ohsweken, Six Nations of the Grand River Territory. A Toronto based artist whose Hodinöhsö:ni restorative aesthetic employs mnemonics of condolence and performative burdens articulated in visual forms that hold body and place including: oral transmission, text works, embodied wampum, photographic, sculpture, installation and video. Staats' practice conceptualizes Land as monument embodied within a continuum of relational placemaking with his on-reserve lived experience, trauma, and the explorations of ceremonial orality. Staats’ lens based language documents cycles of return towards a complete Onkwehón:we neha [our original ways] positionality, reciprocity and worldview.

Greg Staats, actively exhibiting as a full time artist, since 1988 Staats studied Applied Photography, Sheridan College, ON [1983] and is the recipient of the Duke and Duchess of York Prize in Photography 1999. Staats was Faculty for two Aboriginal Visual Arts Residencies, Banff Centre: Archive Restored (2009) and Towards Language (2010). Staats’ works are held in public, private and corporate collections. Upcoming solo exhibitions: Art Gallery of Ontario, CONTACT Photo Festival at Todmorden Mills. [2021] and Art Gallery of Hamilton, ON (2023). Staats has been shortlisted for the 2021 Robert Gardner Fellowship in Photography from the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnography at Harvard University. Staats has also been shortlisted for the 2021 Scotiabank Photography Award.

Jacqueline Bell, Curator, Walter Phillips Gallery and Acting Director, Visual Arts
Performing Do’-gah – I Don’t Know [Shrugging Shoulders]
by Greg Staats (Skaru:ręˀ / Kanien’keha:ka), 2021

Performed September 10, 2021
Courtesy of Walter Phillips Gallery, Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity