by Kristina Huneault. McGill-Queen's University Press, July 2018. 400 p. ill. ISBN 9780773553194 (h/c), $65.00.
Reviewed September 2019
Sara Ellis, Art Librarian, Music, Art & Architecture LIbrary, University of British Columbia, email@example.com
I’m Not Myself at All: Women, Art, and Subjectivity in Canada, a thematic analysis of nineteenth- and early twentieth-century women artists in Canada, focuses on overlooked artists and aspects of Canadian art history. This is not a survey text, as Kristina Huneault, professor of Art History at Concordia University, parses relationships between artists and their subjects, peers, family, students, and self. Huneault, who has published extensively on Canadian women artists, interprets artists’ agency and the “simultaneous inscriptions and destabilizations of selfhood that are embedded in women’s creative statements” (5). In doing so, she shifts the frame of reference away from identity analysis to subjectivity: how images reflect an interiorized self-understanding as situated within Indigenous and settler colonial relations.
Huneault employs feminist and postcolonial critical theory alongside biographic and formalist methodologies, archival research, and philosophical inquiry. Multiple forms of cultural expression are considered (painting, basket making, works on paper, and photography) both filling gaps and enriching previous scholarship in this subject area. I’m Not Myself at All continues the thread of scholarship extending from the 1975 title, From Women’s Eyes: Women Painters in Canada (Dorothy Farr and Natalie Luckyi), through the 1993 title, By a Lady: Celebrating Three Centuries of Art by Canadian Women (Maria Tippett) and the 2012 title, Rethinking professionalism: Women and Art in Canada, 1850-1970 (edited by Janice Anderson and Kristin Huneault), and most recently, the 2015 publication, The Artist Herself: Self-portraits by Canadian Historical Women Artists (Alicia Boutilier and Tobi Bruce).
Framed by an introduction and coda, Huneault’s two-part text, titled Identities and Forces, is divided into six chapters: Absence, Displacements, Gaps, Diversity, Inclination, and Listening. "Absence" examines colonial history in the encounter of Henrietta Hamilton (1780–1857) and Demasduit (c.1796–1820) a Beothuk captured by settlers. In Hamilton’s 1819 portrait of Demasduit, the sitter’s "blankness" (33, 34) is an erasure of her loss and separation from community. "Gaps" aligns cultural narrative and the lived experience of Deaf painter Helen McNicholl (1879–1915). Her navigation of changing perceptions of disability, belonging, and ways of knowing is contextualized within broader tensions of Canadian imperialism. "Listening" assigns creative agency to Squamish basket maker Sewinchelwet (1872-1939). Identified as a companion to painter Emily Carr (1871-1945), Huneault repositions her work as an independent practice engaging Indigenous motifs, settler designs, and sustainable land use.
Huneault’s nuanced writing is supplemented by an extensive supporting apparatus including thirty-three pages of notes and a twenty-four-page bibliography drawing on archival material from across the country and a wide range of published sources. It is richly illustrated with 145 high-quality half- and full-page colour plates. Thoroughly researched and annotated, this book is recommended for academic research at undergraduate, graduate, and postgraduate levels.