Currently not on display
Covid-19 Mask No. 6, 2020
University of Regina, President’s Art Collection (Annual Indigenous Acquisition); pc.2020.07
Ruth Cuthand (b. 1954), is a Plains Cree, Scottish and Irish artist and educator born in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan. At a young age Cuthand and her family relocated to Cardston, Alberta near the Blood Reserve, Treaty 7. During her formative years in Cardston, Cuthand experienced the systematic oppression of Indigenous communities which translated to inequities and poor living conditions. These experiences would influence her later, going on to address the early settlement of Canada and the lasting effects of colonization through her work. She takes special interest in examining the proliferation of diseases across Indigenous communities brought over by European settlers. Her fascination with disease encapsulates the damaging effects of colonialism on Indigenous populations.
Cuthand’s bridging of disease and art would begin very early on. Some of her first drawing materials were repurposed orange paper squares discarded from x-rays administered to herself and fellow classmates to screen for tuberculosis. This early experience would find a common thread in later work, as she began to analyze the effects of disease, identifying it as a product of trade with settlers. This allowed her to delve deeper into topics concerning settler and Indigenous relations.
Cuthand’s Trading Series (2009) uses beadwork to create detailed micro images of disease-causing bacteria. Smallpox, yellow fever and measles comprise parts of the twelve-part series. All these diseases have had detrimental effects on Indigenous communities throughout the post-contact era. She remembers being struck by the beauty of the microscopic images. How could something so harmful be so beautiful? She observed comparisons between abstract painting and patterning used in traditional Indigenous beadwork. Beads, Cuthand’s choice of medium, share similarities to disease, as both were introduced to Indigenous communities through trade. Cuthand recalls when she first began the project, laying the beads out on a table in the daylight. She was mesmerized by the deep and rich colours reflected in the glass. A fitting medium to represent the tension between the beauty of the microscopic diseases and their terrible consequences, beads also represent the dichotomy between the benefits and detriment of trade.
Cuthand builds off her previous work in Trading Series for COVID-19 Mask (2020). This work consists of a disposable face mask with a beaded sample of the COVID-19 virus adorning each side. At the start of the pandemic, Cuthand was questioned whether or not she would create a beaded illustration of the virus, but it wasn’t until a visit to the Blood Reserve that she was inspired to do so. She recalls the quick response of her community with enhanced monitoring around their land to ensure minimal contact. This brought her immense pride in her community’s ability to protect one another, as well as a shining example of Indigenous survivance in a contemporary setting, beyond a historical lens. COVID-19 Mask echoes a similar ethos to Trading Series; resilience and perseverance in the face of crisis, as well as the ability to make it out the other side with strength.