CM December 15, 
1995. Vol. II, Number 9

image Hands of History.

Directed by Loretta Todd.
Studio D, National Film Board of Canada: 1994. VHS, 52 minutes.
Order number: 9194 001.

Subject Headings:
Indian women artists-Canada.
Indian art-Canada.

Grades 7 and up / Ages 12 and up.
Review by Adele Case.

Hands of History is a visually beautiful film with an historical component. Director Loretta Todd, who has an aboriginal background, celebrates the renaissance of women in much of the mixed media art and craft forms that can be found in Canada. All of the artists who appear in the film are women, and their backgrounds are in tribes in British Columbia (Stol:o, Gitskan) and east of the Rockies (Chippewan, Blood). Todd has tried to show the early life and early influences of each artist, and clearly these strong, determined women have had to cope with varying degrees of discrimination in a society that has neglected their cultural heritage.

The film follows four aboriginal artists. Jane Ash Poitras works with paint, print making, and collage. Her works have been shown in Canada, the United States, and Germany. Joane Cardinal-Schubert works with mixed-media, and some of her productions have chalk-board explanations that help to put a viewer into the context in which she created the work. This powerful artist has been vocal in criticising colonialism. Rena Point Bolton has worked from childhood in weaving a myriad of baskets. She comments that artists have "carried the culture of the people." Bolton has personally revived the forgotten art of Tsimshian weaving, and she now teaches her craft, from the early work of searching for suitable seaweeds, bark, or grasses, to the preparation of the material, and finally through all stages of the weaving process. Todd enlivens the section on Bolton with black-and-white footage of early basket weavers, who often sold their wonderful creations for tiny sums to supplement the family income. The last artist profiled, Doreen Jensen, is a founding member of the K'san Village and Native Artists' Centre. Jensen makes her own tools, and has created works as varied as masks, button blankets, bentboxes, jewellery, and prints.

The prime focus of this film is to show adolescents and others the range of native art, art that can help aboriginal people reclaim their heritage. Fittingly, Hands of History introduces the belief that out that parents or grandparents can speak to their descendants through totems. But even non-native people can share in the feeling of peace possible when viewing fine totems that show faces, birds, and animal forms.

Because the documentation of Indian art was originally anthropological, "women's art" was often not recorded, or was considered mere craft work. This film will help to dispel that notion, as the works displayed show the talent, the wonderful facility with colour, and the simplicity and strength of works that vary from masks to blankets, from baskets to collages, from dance dresses to mats.

This film should have wide appeal in schools, both in social studies and art classes. Hopefully, it will also encourage many young native girls in particular to explore their past, and to seek out fulfilment in studying and creating their own art.


Adele Case is a high-school teacher who lives in West Vancouver.

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Copyright © 1995 the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.

Published by
The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364

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