The University of Winnipeg’s Duckworth Centre is now home to the iconic re-creation of Daphne Odjig’s Thunderbird Woman. The large 32 by 25 ft mural, painted by artists Mike Valcourt and Peatr Thomas, is a collaborative project by UWinnipeg, the Winnipeg Art Gallery and Wall-to-Wall Mural and Culture Festival.
“The University of Winnipeg is very proud to host this wonderful re-creation of Daphne Odjig’s beautiful painting,” said Kevin Lamoureux, UWinnipeg Associate Vice-President of Indigenous Affairs. “We hope that all who see it are lifted by her spirit and that the Thunderbird Woman will become a source of pride and inspiration for the surrounding community, as it is for us.”
Created by Odjig in 1973 while living in Winnipeg, Thunderbird Woman represents a figure of transformation — half woman and half bird.
“It is an icon, a symbolic message of hope and matriarchal strength,” said Jaimie Isaac, curator of Indigenous and Contemporary Art at the Winnipeg Art Gallery. “It articulates Indigenous agency, the roles of guardianship and protection, and the notion of transformation.”
Odjig founded The New Warehouse Gallery in Winnipeg, which was the first Indigenous-run gallery and print shop in Canada, and later became the birthplace of “The Indian Group of Seven/Professional National Indian Artists Incorporation.”
Mixing traditional Indigenous narratives and imagery with cubist and surrealist influences, Odjig’s works are defined by curving contours, strong outlining, overlapping spheres, and a sense of mixed bold colours.
Her work addressed issues of colonization, the displacement of Indigenous peoples, and the status of Indigenous women and children, bringing these political issues to the forefront of contemporary art practices and theory.
“As an Aboriginal person, I feel great pride in being a part of this project,” said Valcourt, lead artist for the mural. “I admire and respect Daphne’s work and know it is a great honour to be considered for this endeavor.”
“This is an opportunity to re-tell a story,” he continued. “As an artist, I’m happy that we aren’t forgetting where we came from and are paying homage to our roots. The narrative that was compelling then still holds true today.”
Isaac worked closely with the festival’s curators, Synonym Art Consultation, to select a work of art that would best represent Odjig’s lifetime of work and the people and community where the work would be placed.
Wall-to-Wall Mural and Culture Festival’s artists and organizers hope the re-creation of Odjig’s work in Winnipeg brings both an archival knowledge of Indigenous arts to the city, but also acts as a symbol of strength in a city faced with challenges and ongoing social injustices against Indigenous peoples — especially Indigenous women, girls, and two-spirit people.
Thunderbird Woman is UWinnipeg’s second mural created during this year’s Wall-to-Wall Mural and Culture Festival. In August, Kenneth Lavallee, Annie Beach, and several community artists worked together on the fifth rendition of the Star Blanket mural on the Helen Betty Osborne building as part of the festival’s start.
The Thunderbird Woman mural was made possible with funding from the Manitoba Arts Council and with permission from the Odjig family.