Scenes from the Fringe: Gendered Violence and the Geographies of Indigenous Feminism

Shari Huhndorf | Ethnic Studies | Signs, 2021

The 2002 arrest of Robert Pickton, the most notorious serial murderer in Canadian history, prompted an outpouring of responses from Indigenous women artists, writers, and filmmakers. Through their cultural work, these artists demanded attention to the disproportionately high number of Aboriginal women among Pickton’s victims, the reasons for Indigenous women’s heightened vulnerability to sexual violence, and the ways that gendered violence is bound up with the ongoing colonization of Native communities. In these ways, they endeavored to cultivate public understandings of the racial dimensions of the murders, understandings that could usefully inform contemporary conversations surrounding sexual violence such as those in the #MeToo movement, as they also engaged in an Indigenous feminist practice that centers on culture. But as Native women visual artists endeavored to turn images of the Indigenous woman’s body into figures of social protest, they confronted the enduring weight of colonial representations that threaten to mute subversive political meanings. This essay examines the political limits and possibilities of the figure of the Indigenous woman’s body in three visual cultural texts created in response to the Pickton murders: Rebecca Belmore’s billboard photograph Fringe (2007) and street performance Vigil (2002), and Christine Welsh’s documentary film Finding Dawn (2006). In particular, it analyzes how these artists reckon with histories of visual representation, which have debased Indigenous people, while also rendering women mute and reducing them to the flesh, and how they instead endeavor to use visual technologies to support Indigenous political and territorial claims, including those related to gender justice.

Signs 46, 3 (spring 2021), 561-587