- Unsettling Encounters: First Nations Imagery in the Art of Emily Carr
Gerta Moray's Unsettling Encounters: First Nations Imagery in the Art of Emily Carr is a re-examination of the biography and career of Canadian [End Page 322] artist Emily Carr. Moray situates Carr in relation to late-nineteenth-and early-twentieth-century histories of Canadian nation-building, specifically the relationships between First Nations and settlers in British Columbia. This is an attempt to address an aspect of Carr's 'life and work that has been both taken for granted and overlooked – her picturing, as a colonial artist and writer, of the Northwest Coast First Nations peoples and their cultures.' The legendary iconic persona of Carr is explored by Moray, who describes her as a colonial artist, as serving the modern nation, and as a modern artist, in order to elucidate the ways she has been written into the discourse of Canadian art history, and how certain periods of her artistic production have served different narratives of Canadian history. This is as much a project in contextualizing Carr's early painting, in which she represented Northwest Coast Aboriginal subject matter, as it is an examination of Carr's socio-political position – her perspectives on First Nations cultures in relation to her race, gender, class, and family background. Effectively, Moray includes extensive social, historical, and cultural accounts that exhibit colonial, federal, and provincial policies to elucidate the experiences of First Nations in British Columbia during Carr's lifetime. Looking through a post-colonial lens Moray acknowledges how Carr's representations of Aboriginal culture, as Marcia Crosby underlines in her Foreword, 'did so in ways that reflected the limitations of her comprehension not only of Aboriginal people but also of the socio-political and cultural circumstances she encountered.' She traces the socio-political environment that surrounded Carr, including discussions of missionary activity, government initiatives, and media representation of First Nations, thereby contextualizing the artist's position and paintings as a contestation to her contemporary public consciousness. Moray argues that the full significance of Carr's work can be brought to the surface when seen as an intervention in Native–settler relations. Carr's imagery of First Nations subject matter is examined by Moray in the context of the contemporary images of Aboriginal peoples then being produced by anthropologists and further exploited by the museum and circuit of world fairs.
Carr is described as an outsider, positioned in relation to the ethnographer, who travelled extensively throughout British Columbia's First Nations villages. Her intention was to create an archival record reflecting the contemporary settler belief that Aboriginal peoples in Canada were vanishing. Simultaneously, Moray explores Carr's personal relationships with her First Nations sitters and Aboriginal subject matter. The positioning of Carr between the personal and ethnographic reveals the ambiguous relationship of the artist to the First Nations subject matter she painted. Moray critically asks, was Carr's representation of First Nations imagery from the Northwest Coast a work of homage or [End Page 323] cultural appropriation? Although Moray poses this question and uses it as a point of reference, her book falls just short of giving an answer to her reader. What remains to be connected in Moray's account is a more detailed investigation of Carr's ambiguous and perhaps contentious relationship to the First Nations subject matter she painted. Moray presents Carr's work as an intervention, connecting it to Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal resistance movements of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries against racist colonial initiatives in British Columbia. Although Moray does provide extensive accounts of Carr's appositional points of view in relation to First Nations and settler relations in British Columbia, this book lacks a thorough theoretical contextualization of Carr's work as intervention.
Instead, Moray offers a detailed and extensive assessment of Carr's cultural production, mapping her artistic development from her early period in the 1890s to her later works in the 1930s. Furthermore, she explores Carr's more famous later paintings...