For more than 30 years, Ruth Cuthand has been challenging mainstream perspectives on colonialism and the relationships between ‘settlers’ and Natives in a practice marked by political invective, humour, and a deliberate crudeness of style.
Ruth Cuthand’s Dis-ease series consists of large, seductive beaded circles with complex patterns supported on rich, black, velvety surfaces and framed under glass. These circles depict microscopic views of agents that have caused the devastation and loss of many of North America’s indigenous peoples—diseases and viruses such as Spanish flu, hepatitis C and tuberculosis. At the same time, these circles echo some of the forms seen in First Nations beaded medallions.
These Dis-ease pieces were no mere scientific “curiosities” hung on Truck’s wall; there was no mistaking Cuthand’s understanding of history, nor her scientific grasp of the subject matter. This knowledge is depicted in the forms themselves. The clearly defined labels on the glass prompt us to distance ourselves from the work, but the details in the beadwork draw us in, making us understand that what we see is from a First Nations way of knowing. Although Cuthand provides no indication of how many victims were afflicted by these agents, we can feel the gravity and significance of that loss.