Adrienne Huard is a Two-Spirit/Indigiqueer Anishinaabe curator, academic, art critic, scholar, and performer. As a Two-Spirit Indigiqueer, Huard brings a unique focus and position to their research on desire within Two-Spirit and queer Indigenous visual culture on the prairies where they are embedded in the community and draw on these networks in inspiring ways. A citizen of Couchiching First Nation, Ontario, Huard was born and raised in Miiskwaagamiwiziibiing/Winnipeg. After graduating in 2012 from the University of Manitoba with a Bachelor of Fine Arts majoring in photography, they pursued and completed a Bachelor in Art history at Concordia University in Tio'tià:ke/Montreal. Thereafter, Huard completed OCAD’s graduate-level program in criticism and curatorial practice in Tkaronto/Toronto. Huard is the co-founder of gijiit, a curatorial collective with their collaborator, Jas M. Morgan. In September 2020, Huard began a Ph.D. program in Indigenous studies at the University of Manitoba. Formerly, they worked as an Editor-at-Large at the national art publication, Canadian Art magazine [now defunct].
Huard comes into their practice from a place of learning and unlearning methods of being in community with one another. They are a curator that is open to new possibilities when interacting with artists. Their most recent curatorial project titled “Indigenous Drag in Treaty 1” featured online performances, presentations + conversations between Indigenous artists. The project included Indigenous artists such as Feather Talia, Olivia Limehart, and Issa Kixen. Huard was in dialogue with these artists who shared their research on the importance of desire within Two-Spirit and queer Indigenous visual culture with ancestral ties to the Canadian prairies. This is one of the many examples of how Huard is making space and amplifying Indigenous queer art and artists in Winnipeg.
By exploring how their curatorial work ties into pole dancing, our conversation was filled with reimagining what can or cannot be included in our collective categorization of art practice. We also dive deeper into who Huard is and the moments of reflection that influence the way the prairies interpret queer Indigenous art-making.
I have always admired Huard's work and It was such a delight to be in conversation with them on a cloudy day last December. It was a pleasure to discuss their ideas, thought processes, and understand their multifaceted practice.
Imagining a multi-disciplinary space won’t always be the safest because we can not ensure that people feel seen, heard, and that they belong there. It could look like a lot of things, it could be a strip club by night and an art space by day, that would be a dream.
In the last couple of years, you have been back in the prairies, you were situated in Montreal beforehand. How do you feel that place shapes you in your methodology and the ways of thinking within your curatorial practice?
I moved to Montreal to do my art history degree and then to Toronto after to do my master's in curatorial and criticism at OCAD. It was very foundational in terms of within the art realm to go out there, and travel. It is definitely a privilege to have access to those spaces. It’s interesting because I felt isolated in terms of the ways that I work as an Indigenous person or even just my teachings, my languages, or my knowledge. These ideas that are directly connected to land, place, and coming back to the prairies felt very grounding. Not to say that bigger urban cities are not community-driven. I felt that there was something very lacking in terms of thinking about the prairies and how there is such a high Indigenous population, specifically in Manitoba. There is this level of understanding within Manitoba that it is not some big, expensive city that you drown in. It has different nations and land affiliations. I loved being in Montreal but I did not fit in, spiritually I felt like a guest on someone else’s territory, and rightfully so. Inherently I missed talking to other folks who were rounded in place and that was specific to mine. It has been a journey to go and see how other places affect the ways that you live and interact with people. Coming back is a whole new way of understanding how to be in relation with people.
As a person situated in the prairies and with its abundance of artists and curators such as Dayna Danger, TJ Cuthand, Cathy Mattes; what makes you passionate about being in the prairies?
It’s so beautiful to see people who are connected to the ancestral pedagogies and use it within their arts practice to be in conversation with the rest of their community. As well as to their ancestors and to the land. It’s profound to see and the art world within the prairies is a bit more challenging because there’s not a lot of money to go around and in larger cities, that’s kind of the nature of a capitalistic, white-walled art realm. There is more money in bigger cities, so in the prairies, there’s this humility as well. When I think about artists such as Dayna, TJ Cuthand, and Cathy they used art to build a community which I think is very distinct. With TJ, it's in their film practice and doing workshops on queer eroticisms, or for Cathy creating this Kitchen Table methodology or Dayna where they have this ability to create community wherever they go. It’s really an incredible and powerful thing that they do, there is this level of desire for community and relationality that is very distinctly specific in the prairies.
As an individual who engages with art as an audience member and as a curator of exhibition spaces, do you feel there is a shift in contemporary arts, in regards to Indigiqueer sexual sovereignty?
It’s definitely not what it used to be when we talk about erotics and it in the last 20 years there’s been a massive shift. It really felt that erotics were only being seen through a gay Indigenous male lens and that there was no space for queer, gender diverse people or for women. It’s shifted in a way that feels more normalized. The idea of queer Indigenous sexual sovereignty is more accepted or the ways that they are expressed through the diversity of nationhood, gender, and what pleasure looks like for people. The gallery space or artist-run centers are embracing it more because they are realizing that colonialism brought heteropatriarchy and monogamy. People are coming to terms with how that doesn’t really identify with what is embodied within them. People are turning to Indigenous sexual sovereignty to understand that there is another way other than this white cis heteronormative patriarchal way of being in relation with people.
The question of “what can the gallery hold?” can relate to many things but I am thinking specifically of pleasure and desire. Are there ways that you as a curator push the notion that these subjects can hold space within a gallery?
My curatorial collective, gijiit, had an exhibition about Indigenous kink planned, which was canceled due to the pandemic, unfortunately. It was supposed to discuss this idea of reciprocity and consent within kink and BDSM culture but how we are able to stay in relation with one another as queer Indigenous people. Often times people will hyper-sexualize Two-spirit people because of this western notion of the way queer people are reduced to our sexual relationships. Unfolding the layers of fetishization of queer Indigenous bodies, and queer Indigenous women, there are so many layers to unpack but for us fundamentally it's impossible to remove relationality from eroticism. If there is not a way for that to be included within the gallery space, [we will] make our own space. [We want to] introduce that to the gallery space. I think there are ways to have artworks in conversation with one another that honour reciprocity, consent, desire, relationships, etc.
As part of gijiit, when you are working collaboratively with individuals how are you importing care and kinship into your projects?
The collective is currently on a break but thinking from what we have dedicated in the past in our practice is to be in relation with people, it is not a trade or a service when we are working with artists. We’ve taken this very seriously. The Indigenous arts community is very small and the queer Indigenous arts community is even smaller. Eventually, we are going to know one another in some capacity and it is really a cool thing. It is hard when you are a marginalized person or someone who has been systemically discriminated against to be someone who has to [mediate] those art spaces. As a curator, there is a certain level of responsibility of being that person between institutions and artists. There is that role and responsibility I am still learning and coming into, but if there is a level of discomfort it is my job to make sure that those folks are cared for, feel heard, and seen. It is important when working with folks to have a clear dedication that people are properly compensated and that means it is more than CARFAC fees otherwise we will not work with an institution. It’s unfortunate that Indigenous and queer Indigenous folks have to do a lot of research on institutions to make sure that they are safe. It is a lot of time and labour on our part but it is the least we can do, to ensure that the people we are working with feel safe in the best way they can. We are not perfect and still figuring out what it means to be guest curators in these spaces. It is a learning process but it is creating spaces for artists that can feel safe to voice their concerns in general. The art world can be such an intimidating place for queer BIPOC folks.
One of the pole dancing classes you teach called “Back to Roots” you describe “as a class that acknowledges the roots of erotic pole dancing while also educating you on its important history...” Why is it necessary for you to teach history while teaching the technique at the same time?
That was the biggest thing when I moved to Winnipeg and I love the pole community here because it is very tight-knit. It’s an amazing community but there is this focus on fitness as opposed to recognizing this as an art form that was specifically birthed and created by strippers and sex workers. Importantly Black strippers in Harlem, Atlanta, and San Francisco and the culture that we know, and can see in movies like Hustlers it's so popularized. There is a lack of acknowledgment because time and time again, people are appropriating and not paying their dues where they need to be paid. It’s important for me to teach while doing pole because people need to understand that it is an art form containing history. It dissolves that stigma around people that have experiences in those industries of stripping and sex work, and I do as well. I don’t want to feel I am not accepted in a pole dancing community that has appropriated in some ways a community that I used to be a part of. Now that I am coming into this community here in Winnipeg, it's nice to have this educational element to it. It shows that deeper appreciation for where pole dancing came from. It normalizes going to the club and knowing club etiquette. This includes, what it means to sit [in certain] places, the proper amount of tips, and understanding it is acceptable to go. When I am in a place where I feel financially comfortable you’ll find me at clubs all the time and I love it. It’s my way of giving back and making beautiful friendships in the process.
Within the arts, we often do not think about accountability and how that applies to the communities that we are engaging. How are you able to be accountable to the communities that you are a part of but also are in relation with?
I love to think about my practice as being intersectional because it's so much of who I am as a person as an erotic queer native being. When I think about accountability, I think about this desire to want repair and find ways to achieve it. In this culture of immediacy, people want closure or answers right away. I am trying to understand what it means to come to repair, resolution, and resolve. In ways that are reasonable for everybody, if I have to make an apology or be accountable to someone it is a very humbling experience. Understanding that is not only knowing if I want to feel better but genuinely knowing if that other person feels safe, cared for, and does not have a bad experience. It’s not going to happen overnight and there is this level of patience that happens. In terms of how I am accountable to my communities, it is hard with the pandemic to create shows or exhibitions but I try to incorporate programming with artists whose work is not seen as conventional art. In the past [I've organized] online burlesque shows, create dialogues with community members, and hopefully in the future being able to be in conversation with elders ensuring that they are paid, drag artists, and people who are more emerging. Recently I have been coming to a place where I am able to pass along opportunities, and it is not even just passing off but more of assisting folks with certain processes. I remember when I was approached with different opportunities and had mentors ask me if they can edit something for me. It is a very scary thing to enter the art world as an emerging writer and curator. I’m in a place where I can be there for people within reason and within my own capacity as they enter that stage of their practice.
Reimaging new futures is so necessary right now as we live in very harsh times. For individuals to think of new ways that we can be there for one another. How are you reimaging new futures in your curatorial work and when you are in collaboration with folks?
When I think about the future of my curatorial trajectory I never want to work alone again, it sounds like such an absolute thing to say but I have a hard time working alone. I’ve been collaborating with people for a long time, the conversations are so fruitful and I feel way more comfortable being in these spaces. The feeling of being taken care of is something I find important. In terms of the future, I would love to have a space that is accessible not only in the physical sense. Art spaces are still very white, and cis. I would like to see a space that can hold honest and raw conversations. I want to see people who don't necessarily see themselves represented in art spaces feel like they are in a space that represents them in a good way. I don’t really know what that looks like but imagining a multi-disciplinary space won’t always be the safest because we can not ensure that people will feel seen, and heard and that they belong there.
Academia can be a place that can put individuals into “boxes” or restrict them to thinking in linear ways. In your modes of research within academia that include desire within Two-Spirit and queer Indigenous visual culture, how are you able to incorporate these themes within academic spaces?
I am still trying to figure it out myself, it’s funny because I am so lucky to be in a space that is very accepting, and embraces body and sexual sovereignty for queer Indigenous people. My advisors are very gracious and kind with their time and energy. Not everyone has that and I feel kind of like an exception because academia is a very extractive and exhausting place to be. I almost feel like when I bring up certain things within the class dynamics or within the papers I write. It’s sometimes things that are not talked about a lot such as body sexual sovereignty, relationships, queerness, the ways we view bodies and kinship, etc. There are things that I hope that I bring to the table that are not normalized and I hope that people do appreciate it. I am always concerned that I am seen as that weirdo that is very enamored with queer Indigenous Two-Spirit erotics. I don’t know where it's going to land me but I feel very lucky that I can be so vocal and somewhat have a public presence when it comes to pole dancing and having these discussions. I hope to bring these topics to the forefront not necessarily as a leader but as someone who is gently doing that work.
What are your hopes and dreams for the future of queer Indigenous art? And the ways that it can go beyond the expectations that are put onto those artists, curators, and community members?
I love ending on this note because it’s a positive one, I would love to see more programming in art spaces that are more that extends further from the art realm. Programming that is not relegated to the art world, I think there are so many beautiful ways to be creative that are still completely invalidated. I remember someone saying Two-spirit drag isn’t art, it's not in the art world, and bringing the question of what is art? We’ve heard these types of conversations before about that old trope of highbrow and lowbrow art. For a lot queer Indigenous creators, thinkers, and makers, do we really need the art realm to validate our creative experiences? Of course, I want to see people get paid or would love to see the fall of late capitalism in general but in this way, I hope that there are spaces for people who can be their most genuine selves.
Also, I hope for those folks to have the ability to honor their creative practices in whatever way that looks like. I would love to see drag in the same space as strippers and for those two worlds to come together, going beyond and having the weirdest show possible.