1710-1998 / Tee Yee Neen Ho Ga Row - Mohawk (Christianized Hendrick), Emperor of the Six Nations, 1710/1998 / Self-portrait - Onondaga, Champlain Monument, Ottawa, Ontario 1998, 1998
American, Canadian, 1956
65.8 x 87.7 cm; image (left): 49.3 x 33.8 cm; image (right): 49.3 x 33.8 cm
Canadian Museum of Contemporary Photography (no. 2001.54)
Queen Anne commissioned John Verelst to paint portraits of "The Four Indian Kings” who visited her court in 1710 to ask for more support in the offensive against French advances on their lands. The paintings reflect a time when Europeans were allied with the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois). In contrast, Thomas includes an image of Joe David who was involved in the 1990 standoff between the Kanien'kehaka of Kahnesatake and the Canadian military, a comment on the change in the relationship in contemporary times.
Through his photography, Thomas aims to challenge our perception of images of First Nations Peoples. By juxtaposing photographs of his brother Steve and his son Bear with Verelst’s portrait paintings, Thomas uses these historical images as a framework for his own heroic portrayals. Like the paintings, Thomas’ photographs contain clues to their subject’s identity and impart a sense of honour as one draws associations between the two images in each diptych. We see a distinct contrast between the natural settings of the paintings and the contemporary urban environments of the photographs. The symbols of personal identity in the images reveal both artists’ attempts to deliver a message about the individuals depicted. Verelst‘s romantic treatment reveals the interpretation of the status of the Kanien¢kehaka (Mohawk) leaders, while Thomas’ representation is straightforward, the subjects chosen for their importance to the artist himself.