Alternative Narrative Forms, Exposure, and the Limits of Formalized Truth-Telling: Giving Accounts Though New Methods in Indigenous Art


  • Michelle Siobhan O'Brien



This paper examines how individual truths concerning the atrocities and ruptures in Indigenous history, and ongoing cultural continuity in Indigenous society (despite these occurrences) can be located in current movements in Indigenous artwork. It draws upon both Judith Butler’s work on giving an account of oneself and Foucault’s notion of parrhesia to provide a frame for this engagement, and to argue for innovations in Indigenous art as indicative of methods of giving personal accounts and truth-telling that exceed the containable narratives of formal documentation. Through examining new interventions by Indigenous artists—the performance art work of Anishinaabe Canadian artist Rebecca Belmore, and the multimedia work of Kevin Lee Burton, who is Swampy-Cree—it identifies their works as exemplary of how Indigenous artistic interventions continue to formulate new methods of speaking truth to power grounded in cultural-specific forms of narrating personal truths by incorporating a variety of media and emphasize interactivity in their work. This paper ultimately argues that in the creation of art that shares personal truths and give these accounts while also acknowledging narrative absences and gaps, these artists convey the possibility of Indigenous art to share truths that might not otherwise be acknowledged by official historical record.