Cyborg Hybrids brings two worlds together

Artist KC Adams challenges attempts to classify identity

KC Adams took a page from Donna Harroway’s Cyborg Manifesto to play and subvert aboriginal stereotypes in her show Cyborg Hybrids, currently on exhibit at Modern Fuel.
KC Adams took a page from Donna Harroway’s Cyborg Manifesto to play and subvert aboriginal stereotypes in her show Cyborg Hybrids, currently on exhibit at Modern Fuel.
Photo: 

Visual artist KC Adams’ portraits are glamorous, subversive photographs that speak out on many levels, re-envisioning and playing with common perceptions of aboriginal people. Making a stop in Kingston after being shown in Carleton University’s Anthem: Perspectives on Home and Native Land, the pieces will grace Modern Fuel’s walls for the exhibit Cyborg Hybrids.

The Winnipeg-based artist and graduate of Concordia’s bachelor of fine arts studio art stream said her series of people she calls Cyborg Hybrids is probably her most personal work to date.

While at the Banff Centre in Alberta, Adams encountered other artists of aboriginal and non-aboriginal descent whom she found inspiring, techno-savvy and who defied the stereotypes attached to them even in the arts scene.

“It started with me actually initiating a performance piece that was really kind of subversive. I started beading t-shirts with stereotypical text,” Adams said.

“Being an aboriginal in the arts community, I became a token Indian,” Adams said.

“I was always constantly the person that people would turn to when it was aboriginal issues. I wanted people to recognize I was [both] aboriginal and not-aboriginal.”

The photos each feature an artist who is a role model, of Euro-aboriginal descent and plugged into modern technologies. Each artist wears a white t-shirt with a stereotype embroidered in beads, a white choker and the photos have been photoshopped in order to appear glossy as though from a fashion magazine. The photos raise awareness with the text and yet the presentation is playful.

“Every single person up on that wall—they’re like me. They’ve grown up in those two worlds, not really being accepted in both them, having to face silly things for their entire lives. Just constantly being linked to the past, that drives me crazy,” she said.

Drawing on Donna Haraway’s Cyborg Manifesto, in which Harroway describes cyborgs as people living in a technological world free of the limitations of gender and race, Adams uses part of the philosophy to create a modern vision of aboriginal people in Canada, who are part of the future instead of constantly linked to a romanticized past.

“I’m bringing them to the future with the idea of the cyborg. I’m painting them in the present and in the future instead of the past which is what the media chooses to do,” she said.

“There are not enough positive role models in the media. It’s fighting back against those stereotypes that you always see and hear about—neutralize and mock it.”

After successfully photographing in Banff, Adams took her series to Charlottetown, P.E.I. and Winnipeg and Brandon, Manitoba to capture more stars of the aboriginal artistic community. The series became cross-city and in doing so, more stereotypes and images were encountered as Adams traveled to new cities for artistic residencies.

“Each region had their own set of stereotypes and issues. In Winnipeg it’s much more predominant. We’re dealing with aboriginal issues, it’s way more in your face. You go to Toronto or Montreal and they’re not even a blip on the social conscious,” Adams said.

“In Charlottetown, their thought process is that the aboriginal population is making money off the fishing industry. In Banff, they’re more mystical and spiritual.”

So the series grew. Each portrait and city’s series are linked by the costume and defiant, posed stares of the subjects.

The poses and portraits reference the photographs of Edward Curtis, who was known to pose and romanticize First Nations people in photographs, contributing to linking them to a mythical past. In contrast, Adams is linking them to a future and a world she knows.

When deciding which collection to send to Modern Fuel, Adams and artistic director Michael Davidge discussed the possibilities. In the end, they went for the Winnipeg and Brandon, series which are more hard-edged with the stereotypes and issues.

One photograph features Niki, a visual artist, performance artist and videographer, staring back at the camera with the words “Gang Member” on her chest. Other slogans from the series include “Sniffer” and “F.A.S.”

The models appear to be defying a gaze that has oten fallen upon them in history and art. By staring back and representing role models, the portraits portray a new generation of artists.

“I’m not labelling them as these stereotypes,” Adams said.

“They’re defying it not defining it.”

Cyborg Hybrids runs until Nov. 7 at Modern Fuel Artist-Run Centre (21A Queen St.). If you are a techno-savvy artist of aboriginal and non-aboriginal descent and a role model in your community, please contact the gallery as Adams is looking for subjects to shoot for a Kingston series. Check out kcadams.net for more.

When commenting, be considerate and respectful of writers and fellow commenters. Try to stay on topic. Spam and comments that are hateful or discriminatory will be deleted. Our full commenting policy can be read here.