Bonnie Devine’s Circles and Lines: Michi Saagiig exhibit at the AGM visually examines the land lost in the Michi Saagiig homelands. Her works guide us through a loss so profoundly rooted in, well, uprooting—and very horrifically so.

Circles and Lines examines the narratives shared between colonizers and the colonized. The Michi Saagiig occupied much of Southern Ontario. Known as “peacekeepers” between indigenous nations, the colonization of their land is accounted for within Devine’s representation. She challenges their narratives through the circle and the line. The main inspiration for using these two geometric forms comes from our very own earth, which curator Raven Davis connects the exhibit to. They say, “All of existence is comprised of circles, lines and patterns, replicating the curves, depths and peaks of the earth’s surface.”

In the exhibit, the linear aspects strive to explain rationality and logic, using maps and lines drawn out on maps. We can see cities, streets, and grids in conjunction with our region. The circular aspects that we’re shown boast the opposite; it’s the more sheltered, artistic side of the exhibit. It heals and embraces us, so we can realize the reason behind the linear. The two aspects work together in order to present new meanings.

In the back, there is a piece that sits in the middle of the floor. The work is titled, “Circle of Enquiry for a Dish with One Spoon” and leaves much to the imagination. There lies a circle of reeds, which its description claims was collected from the Credit River in Mississauga.

To give some context, the Dish with One Spoon is a treaty between the Anishinaabe and the Haudenosaunee, stating the resources that must be shared around the territories of the Great Lakes. It’s made of wampum and often associated with territorial agreements in the GTA.

The art piece is quite large, taking up a good portion of the room. The limp reed plants wrapped around its circular paper base make for an interesting choice. The reed straws come together in a circle here, perhaps indicating a cycle of change not strong enough to withstand it any longer.

Further along, another piece contrasts this aspect of the circular. Devine’s “Impassable” hangs on two boards, both pieces of mixed media. One of them is a map of the Great Lakes showcased on a rustic orange background and next to it, while also a map, is not geographical on the surface. It’s a connect-the-dots sort of map—a visual representation of five blue circles that are in the same formation as the Great Lakes. The blue circles are unnamed in this version of the map but connected in the same way they would be geographically. The maps are different representations but depict the same place.

This idea, it seems, is key to comprehending nearly everything in the exhibit. Land, geography, and dispossession within the region navigate back to ownership. What does it mean, and how can we better define it? How does ownership present itself, and how do we take part in realizing it?

Devine’s exhibit is simple but it poses many questions like these. However, this is the point of her project. Colonization of indigenous land isn’t just about the land itself. Our homeland is sometimes a complicated area of discussion and we must never forget its past.

Circles and Lines: Michi Saagiig runs at the AGM until December 21.


This article has been corrected.
  1. September 27, 2018 at 7 a.m.: Ravine Davis correctly referred to as “they” and “them”