PROFile: ‘Art is what centres me’

Cathy Mattes, associate professor, history of art

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 Cathy Mattes, associate professor in Canadian art history, talks about her Métis origins as she sits in her parents’ St. James home. She commutes to her teaching post at the University of Winnipeg from her Spruce Woods home and takes the opportunity to visit family while in the city.

Mattes considers herself a Michif learner and explains that Southern Michif is one of four variants of the language which is composed of Cree, Anishinaabe and French.

Mattes’ Métis background influences her approach to curatorial projects. The method she employs has been referred to as a dialogic and Indigenous knowledge-centred approach. “Those conversations we have during (the curation of an exhibition), (as well as) the knowledge-gathering events, is how we create a space that is nourishing and can cultivate learning, understanding and appreciation for art. To me, that is the dialogic Indigenous curation,” she says.

Her career came about in part due to an aptitude-test result. “I was 18, and I wasn’t certain what I wanted to do. I had taken an aptitude test in high school that said I should be an art curator,” she says.

She freelances as a curator. There were few curator positions when she first started out in the field, so it made sense to do gig work while also working in her chosen occupation. “I like working with different organizations, and freelancing affords those opportunities,” Mattes says.

Mattes refers to her approach to curatorial projects as pedagogy in practice, saying that artists and curators often use this method. “My particular pedagogy in practice as a curator is to consider the process of organizing an exhibition and getting it to the public just as important as the final product.” she says.

What do you like about your work?

“I like everything about my work. Anything to do with art is what centres me. It’s what nourishes me and what challenges me.”

What do you do in your spare time?

“I’m a beadworker. I learned it when I was about 20. I have a husband and two kids. I love spending time with them. I like visiting family.”

Published in Volume 77, Number 01 of The Uniter (September 8, 2022)

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