PuSh Blog

PuSh 2010 Curatorial Statement: The Edward Curtis Project

January 12, 2010

Brenda Leadlay, Artistic Director of Presentation House Theatre, in conversation with Marie Clements and Rita Leistner

The Edward Curtis Project is the brainchild of Metis/Dene theatre artist Marie Clements, whose vision invited a partnership with photojournalist Rita Leistner, with whom she has created a multi-disciplinary work that explores the life of controversial photographer Edward Curtis and the “Vanishing” Indians he documented between 1900 and 1930 in his 20-volume epic, The North American Indian.
My role as the curator/producer of this project stems from my association with Marie Clements whom I met in 1991, at the start of her career. From that moment, I have loved and respected her work. I had the opportunity to work with her as a director and a co-creator on Wet Dreams for Tamahnous Theatre in 1995, and now, for the first time, as my writer and my co-director for The Edward Curtis Project. Rita Leistner, our partner in this endeavour, is also an award winning photojournalist and photographer who has brought her own vision of what “survival” looks like.

What attracted me to this project was first and foremost Marie Clements’ vision. She is an artist who I admire because she writes some of the most insightfully poetic, imaginative and moving plays that I have ever experienced. I was also impressed by Rita Leistners’ photographs, which are haunting, honest, and heartfelt – and an original documentation of what survival looks like in North American aboriginal communities today.

Having worked for two years with these two artists, I would like to pose the following questions for them to ponder:

1. What has Edward Curtis taught you?

Rita Leistner: That the present dynamic about appropriation and representation has always existed, but in the past it was subject to asymmetrical information. Today, we have the ability to address that dynamic in our work.

Marie Clements: I don’t think that Edward Curtis has taught me anything but I do think working on a project where Edward Curtis is the subject has blown open my perspective which is an incredible gift of sorts. I don’t think I will ever take for granted the power of seeing or believing.

2. Why do you want people to see this work?

Rita Leistner: To show that North America is a proud and diverse place and always was. I want to provide windows into the lives of the people I photographed and also for the photographs themselves to raise questions about pre-conceived ideas of First Nations people. So there is a lesson in photography that is part and parcel of the “introductions” I hope these photographs will engender between viewers and the subjects and between the subjects themselves, who were actually the first people to see these photographs as they were being made.

Marie Clements: In keeping with the dialogue I believe that seeing can change perspectives, alter us somehow, hopefully for the good. Maybe change is too much to ask for, yet this is what is being called for- the ability to create a new picture, one that is truer than the last.

The Edward Curtis Project is part of the 2010 PuSh International Performing Arts Festival and is presented with Vancouver 2010 Cultural Olympiad and Presentation House Theatre. January 21- 31, 2010 at 8pm (Matinee Saturdays at 4pm, Sundays at 2pm only), Presentation House Theatre. Click here for full details.