Photographer turned painter, we join this artist as she gets “Wrapped in Culture”.
Rosalie Favell is a Métis (Cree/English) artist born in 1958. Her body of work primarily features self-portrait photography with a wide spectrum of artistic embellishments added to each piece, collage-like imagery incorporating family photographs from her childhood, and clean and crisp portraits of contemporary Indigenous artists.
Rosalie came to own her first camera when she was just 10 years old and began her official photographic journey by enrolling in night classes for photography as a young adult. She then went on to obtain a formal education from universities in both Canada and the United States. She holds three undergraduate degrees in Fine Art.
Rosalie grew up removed from her Métis/Cree culture and identity. In her adult life, she has used her skills in portrait photography to showcase First Nations peoples. This artistic exploration has allowed her to understand and represent her own Indigenous ancestry.
Rosalie’s personal styles of artistic photography range from her distinct self-portraits featuring mainstream historical figures and events and pop-culture characters, to her creative use of early family photographs taken by relatives. These images from historic family photographs are often combined with modern photographs that she has taken and layered into single collage-like images conveying heartfelt human emotions.
Her photographic visual art themes have grown to contain imagery and messaging referencing the difficult subject of Canada’s historic relationship with Indigenous Peoples and how that relates to her own personal life story. The playfulness of the collage style and digitally garnished imagery allow these difficult subjects and historic injustices to be more easily digested by the Canadian public and possibly by the artist herself, as well. When speaking about her artwork, Rosalie often references the famous quote attributed to historic Métis leader Louis Riel, “My people will sleep for 100 years, and when they awake it will be the artists who give them back their spirit.”
In addition to communicating important messaging regarding Canada’s First Peoples, it is also apparent that many of Rosalie’s works are personal expressions of who she is as an individual–and many of her works contain reoccurring themes of family, gender, and sexuality. Rosalie’s pieces have been exhibited in solo and group exhibitions in Canada, the United States, and countries around the world. With her ever-expanding reach, she has become one of the modern female artists breaking down barriers and opening doors for future generations of Indigenous female artists.
Through her artistic journey, Rosalie has expanded her photographic endeavours to capture and promote other First Nations artists and their work through her portrait photography. To date, she has photographed some 450 First Nations, Métis, and Inuit artists. In recent years, she has been documenting as many First Nations and Métis artists as possible in her mission to show that Indigenous Peoples are still here, are strong, resilient, and continue to have an honourable presence in modern Canada.
Through her work, Rosalie explains that her Indigenous artist portraits put a face to the name of known artists who may only be known by the works of art they produce. Her photographs of modern artists tend to be free of mainstream stereotypical imagery such as, regalia, and background scenery, and instead focus on portraying the subjects as relatable human beings who happen to be gifted artists with Indigenous ancestry.
Throughout Rosalie’s artistic career, she has been involved in Indigenous artist collectives and group projects and has become a consistent advocate and ally for contemporary Indigenous artists through these initiatives.
She has won prestigious awards and grants throughout the course of her career and received the 2017 Paul de Hueck and Norman Walford Career Achievement Award from the Ontario Arts Foundation.
Although recently expanding her artistic expressions into painting and videography after nearly 30 years of photography, Rosalie still very much considers herself a photographer first and foremost.
Rosalie has presented at talks, lectures, and workshops throughout North America over the years, and has held various teaching positions since the mid-1990s, most recently being the Professor of Photography at Discovery University in Ottawa from 2014-2017. She has also completed artists residencies including the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology’s International Artist in Residency Program and Gushul Studio and University of Lethbridge Residency Program that provided the opportunity to initiate the Wrapped in Culture collaboration between Australian Aboriginal artists and First Nations artists in Canada.
About the Cloak
Rosalie Favell’s involvement in the Wrapped In Culture Australian Aboriginal/Canadian First Nations collaborative project first started while she was participating in a six-week artist’s residency in Melbourne, Australia. It was there that she was introduced to esteemed Indigenous Australian artist Maree Clarke who was facilitating possum skin cloak making workshops at the time.
Once back in Canada, Rosalie began seeking out support and partners to get Australian possum skin cloak makers to Canada. She also began contacting Canadian First Nations artists who could bring their skills into a collaborative art project with the Indigenous artists from Australia focused on producing a traditional southeast Australian style possum skin cloak and a traditional Canadian plains style buffalo hide robe.
Possum skin cloaks started out as two or three skins sewn together. The robes were initially used as a baby blanket, daily personal robe, and also as an adult night time sleeping blanket, among other uses. They were continually added to throughout a person’s life as the owner grew into an adult. In some regions of south-east Australia, every tribal member was eventually laid to rest wrapped in their personal possum skin cloak when they passed away.
Other parts of the possum were used by the cloak makers, such as possum jaw incisors, which were used to score or incise traditional designs into the skin side of the cloak. Designs were lined and coloured with red ochre on the non-fur skin side of the cloak–these designs contain and convey information about the owner’s lineage and native territory.
The introduction of mass-produced wool blankets by the British invaders in the 1800s eventually replaced the traditional, spiritually significant, and more functional possum skin cloaks used by the aboriginal population. The art of possum skin cloak making has been reclaimed and resurrected in recent generations, and contemporary possum skin cloaks have been proudly worn by Australia’s aboriginal people in a variety of modern contexts, including public and traditional ceremonies.
Possum skin cloaks were essential everyday clothing for aboriginal peoples in the south-east of Australia. Australian possums are marsupials and genetically, they are more closely related to other Australian marsupials, such as kangaroos, than they are to the opossums native to the American continents. Throughout Australia, various levels of protective laws have been enacted to ensure the species’ health and survival. Human exploitation of the land and introduced species have had a negative impact on the native possums’ population numbers and overall quality of life.