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Face-less Identification

Tradition and recognition in the work of Ursula Johnson

“L’nuwelti’k (We Are Indian)”, is a series of on-going performative works by Mi’kmaw artist Ursula Johnson, weaving face-concealing baskets over a participant’s head. “L’nuwelti’k” engages discourses of identity, transformation and visibility. Through the use of status-specific titles, Johnson critically comments on the government-imposed categorization of indigenous status and identity through the Indian Act (1985). Tracing the history of identification and modes of classification, this paper investigates the woven baskets as presenting simultaneously inner and outer layers of publicly visible and invisible formations of identity. Through a methodology of weaving I investigate “L’nuwelti’k” as cultural object, taking up the materiality and process of traditional Mi’kmaw basketry; as mask, engaging a discourse of visibility and invisibility; and as metaphor for the phenomenological body. From these three perspectives, this essay engages and unwraps the political and social critique within Johnson’s body of work. This paper also contemplates the sustainability of identity, and the continual transformation and adaptation of identity within our current cultural moment.

Image: Ursula Johnson, Male Status 6.1a Qualipu Landless Band Member, L’nuwelti’k, 2013. Galerie d’art Louise et Reuben-Cohen, Moncton NB. Photo Credit: Mathieu Léger, Courtesy of Galerie d’art Louise et Rueben-Cohen
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