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December 16, 2021

Memory and reconciliation in a triptych by Hannah Claus

Hannah Claus (born in 1969), invaders, 2019, silver plated headpins, wool point blankets, 215.5 x 156.5 x 3 cm. MMFA, in process of acquisition. Photo MMFA, Denis Farley

Recently acquired by the Museum, the triptych invaders by Hannah Claus is striking in its subtly evoked yet penetrating message. It is on display in “How long does it take for one voice to reach another?”, on view until February 13, 2022.

eunice bélidor

Gail and Stephen A. Jarislowsky Curator of Quebec and Canadian Contemporary Art (1945 to Today)

Claus, an artist of Kanien’kehá:ka and English heritage, is interested in exploring our relationship with memory, space and time. In her work, she adopts an Onkwehon:we (“First Peoples” in Kanien'kéha) perspective to deconstruct dominant colonial narratives and highlight different ways of relating to our universe. The principles guiding her art are founded in complex dynamics of interdependence and offer a counterbalance to the Western worldview, which tends to favour compartmentalized hierarchies. The artist rejects these rigid boundaries, emphasizing the ebb and flow of the forces around us. In so doing, she reveals the living, fluid and impermanent nature of time, memory and identity.

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invaders

The triptych was created following the trade is ceremony series, whose title references the barter economy. The wool blankets, like wampum belts, symbolize the commitment of treaty signatories – and their descendants – to forever honour their agreements. Composed of three red blankets adorned with black bands and silver pins, the triptych represents the Covenant Chain, a series of agreements between the Haudenosaunee and the British originating in the 17th century1. The three “links” in the chain depicted here symbolize peace, friendship and respect. Silver does not break down over time, but it must be polished to keep its shine. Similarly, an alliance must be nurtured to remain strong. The pins are plated silver and, over time, they will tarnish – an incisive allusion to the invalidity of colonial accords. The blankets evoke those that were historically traded for furs and gradually replaced by the pelts in certain Indigenous communities – a poor exchange indeed. Thereafter associated with disease and the plot to decimate First Nations, the blankets have evolved into a source of ambiguity, for they provide protection and warmth. Moreover, they continue to be offered as gifts in ceremonies honouring personal relationships.

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invaders portrays not only the failure of colonialism, but also the transformative potential in acknowledging this chapter in our history. This acquisition is especially important to the Museum, as it ties into our inclusion efforts and our desire to amplify the voices of marginalized people in a system that fails them.


1 “These early agreements were referred to figuratively as chains because they bound multiple parties together in alliance.” Cornelius J. Jaenen, “Covenant Chain,” The Canadian Encyclopedia, August 17, 2015. https://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/covenant-chain. Accessed February 5, 2021.

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