Rebel Rouser Ursula Johnson: "I Wore a Fringed Bikini to Make a Point About Appropriation"

For her striking four-part photography series, interdisciplinary artist Ursula Johnson posed in clothing that had symbols of culturally-appropriated Indigenous iconography


Urusula Johnson on a pink background with illustrated border

(Photo credit: Rita Taylor, Courtesy of Banff Centre for the Arts; Art: Leo Tapel)

“One of the most rebellious moments of my artistic career so far has been when I posed in a fringed string bikini for ‘Between My Body and Their Words’—my four-part photo series that had images of myself in various poses wearing clothing that has symbols of culturally appropriated Indigenous iconography. It was part of the Winnipeg Art Gallery show ‘Insurgence/Resurgence’ [which ran earlier this year; Johnson, who is Mi’kmaq, appears in the life-sized photo with words she solicited from Lori Blondeau, a Cree/Saulteaux/Métis artist, superimposed on top: ‘You could’ve been an Indian princess if you weren’t so fat.’]

I created this project by asking four senior Indigenous female artists to provide a quote to me about the Indigenous female body. When I spoke on the phone with [Blondeau], she recalled someone saying these very words to her when she was only a young girl. We talked about how damaging they were and how they could have created body issues for her.

I asked her if I could use her quote, because I knew the perfect image to go with it. When she gave me permission, I knew the words plus the image would create a powerful tension and hit home for many. There was no other way I could have presented it better.”

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