In 2011, we did a cover story on Saskatoon artist Adrian Stimson related to his experience in Afghanistan with front-line troops as a Canadian war artist. He debuted Buffalo Boy (that’s him pictured at left, click photo to enlarge) a few years earlier at the Burning Man festival in Nevada, and subsequently revisited the character in numerous performances. And that history will be on display in an exhibition curated by Regina artist/academic David Garneau that opens at the Art Gallery of Regina on Wednesday, Oct. 8.
Of Blackfoot ancestry, Stimson adapted the character’s name from Buffalo Bill of Wild West fame. That references the colonization indigenous people endured in western North America in the 19th century, obviously. It also references the buffalo that prairie First Nations like the Blackfoot relied on for food, fuel, clothing, shelter and tools — until they were hunted to virtual extinction during the early days of settlement, that is. Finally, Buffalo Boy presents as two-spirited, which is how indigenous people traditionally conceived of LGBTQ people until Christianity imposed its iron, homophobic will.
Through a mix of photos, videos, artifacts and installations, Buffalo Boy’s multi-faceted character will be addressed, says Garneau. “The exhibition fits with Adrian’s Masters’ thesis at the University of Saskatchewan many years ago where he talked about the importance of the archive. Buffalo Boy was an intrusion into history. It was done in an ironic and playful way, such as with two-spirited people existing, but being edited out of history.
“He and Kent Monkman have gone a long way to reintroducing those figures because even contemporary indigenous people often didn’t know about them,” says Garneau. “There’s also the Trickster idea. He doesn’t refer to it all the time, but the writers certainly do.”
The writers Garneau’s referring to contributed to The Life and Times of Buffalo Boy — a book of essays he edited that Edmonton’s Truck Gallery recently published. “There’s a running gag about this perpetual closing chapter,” says Garneau. “But [Adrian] keeps coming back for more. Sometimes as Buffalo Boy, others times as this shaman exterminator. So there’s this sense of not being able to let him go.”
The Immortal Buffalo Boy opens at the Art Gallery of Regina with a reception on Oct. 8 at 7 p.m. The exhibition runs until Nov. 20.