This exhibition traces the 15-year creative collaboration between James Nicholas and Sandra Semchuk, from their meeting in 1993 until Nicholas’s accidental death in 2007. The photo-installations and videos in this exhibition unveil the effects of colonialism through the lens of their intercultural marriage, revealing a commitment to dialogue in which Semchuk’s identity as the child of Ukrainian-Canadian settlers from Saskatchewan meets Nicholas’s experiences as a Rock Cree man from Manitoba.

The title of the exhibition is taken from the 2005 installation understoryoverstory, a set of photographs of an abandoned road in northern Saskatchewan, one originally built by Cree workers under the direction of Semchuk’s father. While in the accompanying texts Semchuk–who lived in London, Ontario in the 1980s–reflects on her father’s respect for the Cree even as he opened their land to development, Nicholas responds with forceful poetry about the rights of ithin-eh-wuk, his people:

listen, acknowledge that we exist
we are not shadows of shadow cultures
we have inherent rights to the land our laws of being          ithin-eh-wuk
we place ourselves at the center

The questions Nicholas and Semchuk ask of each other are personal, at times humorous, at other times painful. Whether dealing with the marginalization of Ukrainian-Canadian settlers or Nicholas’s experiences as a residential school survivor, the effort is always, in Semchuk’s words, “to recognize the truths in each other’s stories.”  

Ithin-eh-wuk—we place ourselves at the center: James Nicholas and Sandra Semchuk is organized and circulated by the MacKenzie Art Gallery. The MacKenzie receives ongoing support from the South Saskatchewan Community Foundation, Canada Council for the Arts, Sask Lotteries, City of Regina, University of Regina, and SK Arts.

Image: James Nicholas and Sandra Semchuk, sharing is the law, 2004 (detail). Lightjet photograph. Courtesy of Sandra Semchuk.

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