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Greg Staats shares his artistic motivations after winning Governor General’s Award in Visual and Media Arts

Greg Staats
Art institutions across North America have exhibited the work of Skarù:reˀ [Tuscarora], Hodinöhsö:ni’ lens-based visual artist Greg Staats. YouTube photo.

An eminent Indigenous lens-based artist speaks about his practice in a new short video. Toronto-based Greg Staats states that it’s “so joyful” to think that what he’s learning now can be used in the future, even if his photographs are not accompanied by words.

“They’re images that come from the language,” says Staats, who’s Skarù:reˀ [Tuscarora] and Hodinöhsö:ni’.

David Hartman (Transformers Prime, Twilight of the Gods) directed the video for the Canada Council for the Arts and Independent Media Arts Alliance. The video was created after Staats received one of eight Governor General’s Awards in Visual and Media Arts in 2024.

Jury members honoured Staats with the Artistic Achievement Award. It comes with a $25,000 prize and a bronze medallion.

In the video, Staats talks about repeatedly photographing 300-year-old trees on the Ohsweken, Six Nations of the Grand River Territory of his youth. He likens taking images of these trees to visiting old friends.

Watch the new video.

Staats began taking photographs in high school

Staats is a founding member of the Native Indian/Inuit Photographers’ Association. Over his career, he has had 17 solo national, regional, and artist-run exhibitions. In addition, he’s participated in 16 group exhibitions at prestigious institutions, including  National Gallery of Canada, the Museum of Contemporary Native Arts in Sante Fe, and the International Gallery of the Smithsonian Institution.

Now a knowledge keeper, he has also been an artist-in-residence at the Banff Centre and the Art Gallery of Ontario.

In the video, Staats says that he began taking pictures in high school. And he learned that he could navigate social relationships quite easily with a camera.

“Photography has provided me with an ongoing reciprocity to land, nation, language, community, family, and finally, to myself,” Staats states. “I’ve been in a constant state of reflection for some time with my photography. And it’s a sort of counter-veiled dissociative state.”

Learn more about the communities that make up Canada on the Toronto Spark website.

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Charlie Smith

Charlie Smith

Toronto Spark editor Charlie Smith has worked as a journalist in print, radio, and television for more than three decades.

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Arts for Canadians Tomorrow Society created Toronto Spark to foster greater appreciation for underrepresented artistic communities. A rising tide of understanding lifts all of us.

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Arts for Canadians Tomorrow Society is grateful to be held on the traditional, ancestral, and unceded territories of many nations, including the Mississaugas of the Credit, the Anishnabeg, the Chippewa, the Haudenosaunee and the Wendat peoples, that is now home to many diverse First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples. We acknowledge our privilege to be gathered on this land, and commit to work with and be respectful to the Indigenous peoples whose arts and stories inspire us to bring communities together.