KC Adams is a Cree/Ojibway/British Winnipeg-based artist who graduated from Concordia University with a B.F.A in studio arts. Currently an instructor in Visual and Aboriginal Art at Brandon University, her work has appeared in solo and group exhibitions, as well as in permanent collections both nationally and internationally. She is also the author and creator of Perception: A Photo Series.
KC created the Perception Photo Series in 2014. The series presents two photographs of the same Indigenous person side-by-side – one with a stereotype above it, and one with the participant’s own description of their identity. In the first photo, the participant is reacting to a memory of a racially-charged incident; in the other, they are remembering something that makes them happy. With its powerful ability to address prejudice, Perception was featured on billboards, bus shelters, and posters across Winnipeg, starting a national conversation about our own biases and perceptions..
In her book, KC Adams presents a series of images that confront the stereotypes about First Nations, Métis, and Inuit peoples and inspires her readers to act against prejudice of all kinds. In her Q&A below, KC explores the origin of Perception and her experiences creating it.
1. The longevity of Perception is something that you mention in your preface, as well as the various experiences that you have had because of it. What is the most valuable thing that you have learned as a result of this project?
I was surprised by the human connections that can happen through art. Normally, I am reluctant to ask strangers to help me. I worry too much about obligations and social protocols. I pushed through my fears because I understood that this art project was important. The beautiful souls who volunteered to be part of this photo project taught me about courage, tenacity, and vulnerability and further fuelled my hope in humanity. My models were so kind and generous, and I believe because of their courage, the general response to this work was with kindness and generosity. How cool is that?
2.What do you think your book, Perception: A Photo Series, brings to this project which the other mediums you have used have not yet been able to provide?
Photography allows the viewer to look into the eyes of my subjects and react to their truth. My method in photographing my subjects, was to allow their genuine reactions to hate and love shine through. My model’s physical reactions to those words allowed the viewer to relate and experience empathy.
3. In your book, you mention how, when you started the project of Perception, your intent was to “combat racism and present Indigenous and non-Indigenous people in the ways they see themselves.”; but now it is “to give hope to the Indigenous, Métis, and Inuit people for a better future and to remind people that discrimination must never be tolerated”. What prompted the evolution in your intent for this project? How does Perception: A Photo Series aim to accomplish this?
Initially, I was responding to negativity, a knee-jerk reaction to bigotry. It was from anger that I was driven to act quickly to combat this ignorance. As I photographed my community, I was able to sit and hear their experience, to understand how they saw themselves. Their strength, beauty, and hope encouraged me. When the work was distributed, I heard from strangers about how moved they were by the photos and shared their appreciation on how it allowed them to start the conversation about racism with their friends and family. Teachers started contacting me about how they were able to share this work with their students and have conversations about discrimination. What evolved was that people were eager to have these conversations and it took me out of anger into the light of hope.
4. The author Katherena Vermette, in her foreword entitled “Before Words”, describes the process you used to take photographs of the participants. Why did you decide to capture the photographs in this way?
I wanted the audience to understand the pain of each person I photographed, and the only way I could do that was to bring them into that mental state. The hate and joy that I inflicted on my models was allowing them to speak their truth. Photographing my mother was the most painful exercise. I asked her to remember when she was a little girl and kids would taunt her, calling her a ‘dirty little indian.’ She started to well up, and I managed to take a couple of photos before I had to stop and comfort her. That was really painful for me to see that she still holds onto those hateful words. I would often cry when I would talk about that photo session. This project was an eye-opening experience for me on the levels of pain and joy that exists in the original people of this land.
5. What are you working on now? Do you have any plans for future projects?
I am currently working on some public art commissions, one of which I just completed with Jaimie Isaac and Val Vint on a 30-foot sculpture called Nimamaa located at the South entrance of the Forks in Winnipeg. Nimamaa is a word recognized by Cree, Ojibway, and Métis speakers as “my mother.” Nimamaa is a stylized sculpture of a pregnant woman that represents motherhood, mother earth, and new beginnings.
I am also working on multiple projects that addresses Indigenous knowledge through Indigenous clay, beading, and porcupine quill work. I am trying to address the recommendations made by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Calls to Action in my art practice. I believe art can elicit positive change by reclaiming our culture and spirit. I will end this with one of my favourite quotes by my good friend Steve Loft.
“…when members of a community assert control over their own lives and culture politically, socially, and artistically, they go beyond oppression. Thus, control of our “image” becomes not only an act of subversion, but of resistance and ultimately liberation.”
Interested in learning more about Perception? Click here to listen to KC’s interview with CBC guest host Jelena Adzic about Perception’s effects across Winnipeg, and the project as a whole.
Want to experience Perception for yourself? Pre-order your copy of Perception: A Photo Series today!