Jeff Thomas Maps Iroquoia in new exhibition

Jeff Thomas photograph

Jeff Thomas, Ottawa, Ontario, Samuel de Champlain monument, 1992, “The Indigenous Navigator.” Search coordinates: Longitude N45 25.764 & Latitude W75 42.087

The McMaster Museum of Art presents:

JEFF THOMAS –  Mapping Iroquoia: Cold City Frieze
Sherman Gallery
November 15, 2012 – January 12, 2013

Reception: Thursday November 15, 6-8 pm
Artist’s Talk: Friday November 16, 12:30 pm
These Events are Free and Open to the Public!

Iroquois/Onondaga artist and curator Jeff Thomas has had a lifelong quest to find representations of First Nations peoples in the everyday world and break down stereotypes. For 20 years he has been curating First Nations exhibitions, working with the National archives, and creating photographs to that end. The new exhibition at the McMaster Museum of Art, Mapping Iroquoia: Cold City Frieze marks the culmination of Thomas’ career. The exhibition includes installations, archival documents and more than 60 photographs. Says Thomas, “In all the works in my exhibition I am, in effect, putting ‘Indians’ back ‘on the map’.”

The project began in 1992. While North America was celebrating the 500th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’ so-called New World Discovery, Jeff Thomas went on a road trip intending to capture the anniversary photographically, but from an indigenous perspective. He returned disillusioned. “What I was not prepared for was the sense of cultural erasure and silence I encountered—’Indians’ were, literally, off the map,” he said. However, a new quest arose after Thomas photographed the Champlain monument in Ottawa. He felt a kinship with the nameless indigenous man at the base of the monument, overlooking the city. It inspired Thomas to embark on a quest to find more urban Indigenous people and begin Mapping Iroquoia.

The exhibition has three parts. It begins with Thomas’s photographs of the Champlain monument, moving on to groupings of images installed as wampums, archival documents and a series of more than fifty images – from the Red Robe and Sightseeing albums of Thomas’s latter road trip. The Red Robe album documents the travels of an indigenous avatar, a statue, along the Grand River Territory, to the Department of Indian and Northern Affairs in Ottawa and as a diplomat to England and France.

Jeff Thomas, Hamilton Port Authority photograph
Jeff Thomas, Sightseeing. Hamilton, Ontario, 2004, Hamilton, Port Authority building, 605 James Street North. Search coordinates: Longitude N43 16.398 & Latitude W79 51.716
Jeff Thomas, Ottawa Store photograph
Jeff Thomas, Sightseeing. Ottawa, Ontario, 1999, Beaded Dreams store, Bank Street. Search coordinates: Longitude N45 24.745 & Latitude W75 41.632

An exhibition publication with an essay by Wanda Nanibush, Independent Curator and Curator in Residence at Justina M. Barnicke Gallery is available.


Jeff Thomas is an Onondaga photo-based artist who grew up in Buffalo New York. His home reservation is Six Nations of the Grand River Territory (in Brantford, Ontario). Thomas has been exhibiting since the early 1980s and has had over sixty exhibitions in the past thirty years, twenty of those, solo projects. His work is housed in the collections of museums around the world, among them, Canadian Museum of Contemporary Photography, Canadian Museum of Civilization, Canada Council Art Bank and Woodland Cultural Center (Brantford), Museum of the American Indian (Washington), Museum der Weltkulturen (Frankfurt), and British Museum (UK). There are numerous publications and reviews on the artist’s work and he has spoken at over twenty conferences and at over sixty public speaking engagements. His curatorial and consultancy work on First Nations photography, history, and practice is well known and respected. He was inducted into the Royal Canadian Academy in 2003; received the Canada Council’s Duke and Duchess of York Award in Photography in 1998 and received the Ontario Arts Council’s Chalmers Fellowship in 2005.

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1 Response to “Jeff Thomas Maps Iroquoia in new exhibition”

  1. 1 On Anselm Kiefer « McMaster Museum of Art’s blog Trackback on November 29, 2012 at 4:39 pm

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