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Artist Talk: Gina Adams

Gina Adams’ artwork, including her Broken Treaty Quilts will be on display in the Wriston Art Galleries through November 19. Photo by Jamie Dong.

Gina Adams, a contemporary hybrid artist, presented an artist talk to the Lawrence University community in the Wriston Auditorium on Tuesday, Oct. 12. She shared her methodology and inspiration behind her Broken Treaty quilts, which are currently on display in the Wriston Art Galleries until Nov. 19.  

Through her exhibition, Broken Treaty Quilts and Languages of Healing, Adams explores historical and inherited trauma. She wanted to create conversations around “what it meant to be a person with inherited trauma.” She explained that trauma is genetic and “in the blood,” and these quilts explore how historical trauma is passed down through generations of Indigenous peoples. As a “social political artist,” Adams shared that she always wants to make “art that would make people think” about the past and their current actions. She explained how moved people often are by her artwork and how many feel inspired to enact change that helps Indigenous people within their communities. “It’s important to do this work,” she noted. Her website, ginaadamsartist.com states that her “Broken Treaty Quilt project is an ally for all Indigenous nations to make up for the wrongs passed down by our colonial ancestors who created systems of removals, broken treaties, reservation systems and relocation acts.” Exploring these injustices is central to her work.  

The quilts visually represent the broken promises by the U.S. and Canadian government by showing the actual language of the treaties that were not upheld. The broken treaties are represented in cut-out letters on antique quilts. The quilts hold a specific significance to the project. According to her website, “While it is difficult to know who made the original quilts in the project, there is reason to believe they’d been thrown out due to their worn appearance. In my view, not unlike Native people.” The letters on the quilt are intentionally hard to read, as she wants the viewer to be confused. The language of the treaties is confusing and duplicitous, and this is replicated in the experience of reading it on the quilt.  

The quilts were created in her home studio with the help of assistants who shared the tedious work of cutting out the letters. She shared that at many points she questioned whether the project would work, but that questioning is an essential part of the process. In the past, she has incorporated elements of performance into her piece, wearing the quilt and reading the treaty at exhibitions. She has also expanded the quilt project into Broken Treaty medallions. The hand-made, white porcelain medallions show the language of the broken treaties similar to the way in which the quilts do.  

In her artist’s statement on her website, she states that “sewing together injustice with an object of comfort stirs deep emotion.” The goal is to subject colonists to the truth through a form of “storytelling.” She stated that she’s “always trying to think about the conversation” that will start as a result of her work.  

Gina Adams’s website, which provides more information about her work, can be found at ginaadamsartist.com.