62 pages
Contains Photos
ISBN 0-88915-201-2
DDC 704.9'49971054




Reviewed by Thomas M.F. Gerry

Thomas M.F. Gerry is a professor of English at Laurentian University and
the editor of Arachne, Laurentian University’s bilingual
interdisciplinary journal of language and literature.


Rielisms is the catalogue for a 2001 exhibition of artworks that focused
on Louis Riel. In the introductory essay, Catherine Mattes, the guest
curator for the show at the Winnipeg Art Gallery, writes, “The use of
[Riel’s] image in art from the late 1960s onwards reflects the
cultural politics of the times; thus, the process of Canadian mythmaking
is revealed.” In the mythmaking process, Riel has been variously
depicted as a politically astute hero, a saintly victim, and a mad
savage who impeded progress. Mattes discusses the removal of two statues
of Riel—which had been commissioned for the grounds of the Manitoba
and Saskatchewan legislatures—that followed Métis charges that the
sculptors’ depictions of Riel’s human suffering and “ultimate
humiliation” were disrespectful to the Métis nation and to Riel.
“These portrayals were not their Riel,” Mattes writes. “The
Métis’ concerns about the sculptures proved that how Riel is
portrayed in art can affect Métis who have been marginalized because
they look to Riel for pride.”

A selection of photographs of artworks from the exhibition is followed
by an essay by Sherry Farrell Racette, who also contributes some
striking paintings to Rielisms. In her essay, Racette presents a brief
biography/history of Riel and discusses, from a contemporary Métis
perspective, how Riel’s “flaws and struggles reflect our own.” She
also takes issue with the constructions of well-meaning liberal
scholars: “We [the Métis] are particularly vulnerable to the
constructions of scholars who are supportive of our contemporary
struggles. Much of this work has reframed the Métis political struggle
into a version of American nation-building mythology.” Racette is
especially appalled by the tendency of Métis women to disappear from
such narratives of heroic but futile resistance.

The nicely reproduced photographs of the works of 10 artists assist the
sculptures, quilts, paintings, and drawings in telling their own
stories. Had they been cross-referenced in the two essays, they would
have played a more integral part in Rielisms. Nevertheless, this book is
a lucid and compelling exploration of a multi-layered topic.


Boyle, John, et al., “Rielisms,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed July 14, 2024, https://cbra.library.utoronto.ca/items/show/7266.