The Art Gallery of Windsor (AGW) is pleased to welcome home Treaty Robe, for Tecumseh, an iconic sculpture by renowned installation artist Bonnie Devine, a member of Serpent River, the First Nations of Northern Ontario (Anishinaabe/ Ojibwa). Devine developed this work for her major solo exhibition The Tecumseh Papers, 2013, at the AGW, that examined the legacy of colonial resistance and unity by the visionary Shawnee leader, Tecumseh. Moving beyond the dominant narrative of the War or 1812 that led to the fall of the General Brock, Devine draws our attention to the Battle of Thames, 1813, that led to Tecumseh’s martyrdom. She salutes and pays homage to his resilience amidst the myriad violent encounters and power struggles between the British, Americans and the First People throughout Tecumseh’s lifetime, that ultimately led to the establishment of present day USA and Canada.
In Treaty Robe, For Tecumseh, Devine re-interpreted the limited masculine military accounts of warfare through a meticulous feminist lens of care, respect and justice. She infused her own subjectivity and imagination to visualize the turbulent struggles and circumstances that led to Tecumseh’s emergence as a leader and force to reckon with. Drawing on the tradition of 19th Century ledger drawings, when Indigenous prisoners of war were given old accounting sheets of paper to draw, Devine developed a mantle for the robe using pages from the existing accounts of the War of 1812 that dominate our history text books. She used these pages as the surface on which she made pictograph drawings that signified key sites and events in the Shawnee leader’s life. The mantle itself rested on a Union Jack that was draped over 100 feet of red fabric. Treat Robe, for Tecumseh evokes the military coffin with the national flag as he lost his life fighting for his British. Devine adorned the Robe with sea shells and fringes made of deer hide thereby interweaving the Indigenous clothing traditions into the colonial flag as a testament to women’s acts of dissents and endurance in colonial struggles. The red trail of the Robe spans the entire gallery, marking and defining the space as a symbol of the generations of suffering and healing practices that nurtured struggles of decolonization in our present day.
Since its presentation in The Tecumseh Papers, 2013, it has been on loan to the Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto, for the prestigious exhibition, Before and After the Horizon: Anishinaabe Artists of the Great Lakes,2014, followed by its presentation in permanent collections galleries of the AGO. In the same year, the AGW acquired the Treaty Robe, for Tecumseh with funds from the AGW Estate of Eleanor Wallace and the Canada Council Acquisitions Grant to Museums and Public Galleries. Two years later since her major solo exhibition, we are proud to welcome back Bonnie Devine and the Treaty Robe, for Tecumseh, that will enlighten generations of audiences in Windsor and Essex on the rich histories and vibrant cultures of this region.