Jeff Thomas /   Jeffrey Thomas

United States 1956


Jeff Thomas
Jeffrey Thomas
United States
March 14, 2016

Jeff Thomas defined himself as the Urban-Iroquois artist and he introduced this definition because he felt the need to explain his position to the contemporary audience. He wanted to make portraits of Indian people speak for themselves, so he decided to transfer them to modern times and show that they are very much present. The core idea of all his work is to reimagine how a portrait or just a common urban landscape would look like from an Indian perspective. The aboriginal culture did not vanish with the assimilation and the artist wanted to take a more critical approach to this topic.

The aboriginal culture did not vanish with the assimilation

Jeff Thomas - War Dancer (detail)
Jeff Thomas – War Dancer (detail)

Issues of Identity

Jeff Thomas deals with issues of identity and culture in his work. As a child, he was looking through the photographs of Aboriginal people and always felt that they were placed as inanimate statues. He wanted to make them more alive, to give them space to tell their own story. Since he was young, he felt the important urge to tell his own life story about his race and culture, and he chose photography as a medium to bring this idea to life. He fights racial stereotypes and tries to pull out Indigenous people of America out of isolation. His early work, called Fieldwork is made of four partitions: Corn Husks, Scouting for Indians, Strong Hearts, and The Bear Portraits and with this series he started the tradition of telling the historical story from non-white perspective. He made The Bear Portraits series with his son.

He fights racial stereotypes and tries to pull out Indigenous of America out of isolation

Jeff Thomas - Culture Revolution (detail), The Bear Portraits, 1984, Toronto, Ontario
Jeff Thomas – Culture Revolution (detail), The Bear Portraits, 1984, Toronto, Ontario

Conversations with Edward Curtis

Thomas emphasizes that he is interested in archival images of Native People, and his second collection of work was named Conversation with Edward Curtis. Edward Curtis was famous for his photographs of Native Indian American people and in this imaginary conversation, Jeff Thomas wanted to get some answers about the past. If archival images could come to the present, but bring the stories from the past, they would tell the story of the Native man in modern Canada. Curtis’ work had a strong influence on Jeff’s art, but he wanted to find a place for his Iroquois values in the present, contemporary world. He never wanted to support the description of vanishing race, since he felt that his Iroquois identity was very much present.

Thomas does not support the description of vanishing race

Jeff Thomas - Two Indians Old Honesty and Big Chief, Vanishing Race, 2003, London, England
Jeff Thomas – Two Indians Old Honesty and Big Chief, Vanishing Race, 2003, London, England

Postcards for Indians

His third collection of work called Seize the Space was inspired by a visit to the Samuel de Champlain monument in Quebec City. The statue of kneeling Indian at the base of the monument was removed and Thomas wanted to recreate the original structure of the monument, but from an urban perspective. He called his friends to take part in the making of the portraits. One of them posed beneath the monument in a canoe made from cereal boxes and he successfully showed the idea of the Native Indian in an urban environment. Another part of this series consists of postcards, which artist made by putting plastic toys in everyday perspective. This series raises a question of what would modern Indian man send to his friends from holiday and what sort of experience would he have on a vacation. First Nation people still travel, vacate and send postcards.

The artist is represented by Stephen Bulger Gallery in Toronto, Canada.

Jeff Thomas lives and works in Ottawa, Canada.

All images photo credits © Jeff Thomas website

YearExhibition TitleGallery/MusemSolo/Group
2015We Are On Treaty LandWinnipeg Art Gallery, Winnipeg, ManitobaGroup
2015Gazing Back, Looking ForwardAboriginal Pavilion Pan Am Games Fort York ,Toronto, OntarioGroup
2015Everywhere a SignUniversity of Toronto Art Centre ,Toronto, OntarioGroup
2015Home Away from HomeOttawa Art Gallery ,Ottawa, OntarioGroup
2014A Necessary Fiction: My Conversation with Nichola de GrandmaisonUniversity of Lethbridge Art Gallery ,Lethbridge, AlbertaSolo
2014Modern Visions: The Mendel Art Gallery 50th AnniversaryMendel Art Gallery ,Saskatoon, SaskatchewanGroup
2013Land Slide: Possible FuturesMarkham, OntarioGroup
2013Indigenous and UrbanCanadian Museum of Civilization ,Gatineau, QuebecGroup
2013inVisibility: Indigenous in the CityAird Gallery ,Toronto, OntarioGroup
2013SakahanNational Gallery of Canada ,Ottawa, OntarioGroup
2013Create this RevolutionGallery 101 ,Ottawa, OntarioGroup
2013Heart of the Moment: Selections from the Permanent CollectionOttawa Art Gallery ,Ottawa, OntarioGroup
2012Mapping Iroquoia: Cold City FriezeMcMaster Museum of Art ,Hamilton, OntarioSolo
2012Resistance Is NOT FutileStephen Bulger Gallery ,Toronto, OntarioSolo
2012Father’s DayUrban Shaman ,Winnipeg, ManitobaSolo
2012The First SpikeThe Aboriginal Centre of Winnipeg ,Winnipeg, ManitobaSolo
2012The Bear PortraitsStudio 393, Portage Place Mall ,Winnipeg, ManitobaSolo
2012Collection on View: Photography CollectionWinnipeg Art Gallery ,Winnipeg, ManitobaGroup
2012Place Markers – Mapping Locations and Probing BoundariesDalhousie Art Gallery ,Halifax, Nova ScotiaGroup
2012Sovereign ActsJustina M. Barnicke Gallery ,Toronto, OntarioGroup
2011Resistance Is [Not] FutilePaved Arts ,Saskatoon, SaskatchewanSolo
2011Place and Circumstance: Recent Additions to the City of Ottawa’s Fine Art CollectionCity of Ottawa ,Ottawa, OntarioGroup
2011Acting Up - Performing the IndianPlatform Centre For Photographic + Digital Arts ,Winnipeg, ManitobaGroup
2010My Conversation with Edward S. CurtisFestival America ,Vincennes – Paris, FranceSolo
2010Crossing Paths: The ‘Four Indian Kings’ and the work of Shelley Niro and Jeff Thomas,Woodland Cultural Centre ,Brantford, OntarioGroup
2010Construction Sites: Identity and PlaceKamloops Art Gallery ,British ColumbiaGroup
2010Do You See What I Mean?Canada Council Art Bank ,Ottawa, OntarioGroup
2010Many Guises: Contemporary Self-PortraitsBytown Museum ,Ottawa, OntarioGroup
2010Mapping Iroquoia: Shelley Niro & Jeff ThomasMcIntosh Gallery, University of Western Ontario ,London,OntarioDuo
2009Departure PointsGlenbow Museum ,Calgary, AlbertaSolo
2009VERSORobert Langen Art Gallery ,Waterloo, OntarioSolo
2009Crossing Lines, Building BridgesGlenyhurst Art Gallery of Brant ,Brantford, OntarioGroup
2009UNMASKING: Arthur Renwick, Adrian Stimson, Jeff ThomasCanadian Cultural Centre ,Paris, FranceGroup
2009Photo QuaiThe Mus?e du Quai Branly ,Paris, FranceGroup
2009Art + People = XUniversity of Lethbridge Art Gallery ,AlbertaGroup
2008Com-mem-o-ra-tionMacLaren Art Centre ,Barrie, OntarioSolo
2008Who’s your Daddy? Four Hundred Years LaterKarsh ,Masson Gallery, OttawaSolo
2008Don’t Mess with the PedimentStephen Bulger Gallery ,Toronto, OntarioSolo
2008Drive By: A Road Trip with Jeff ThomasUniversity of Toronto Art Center ,Toronto, OntarioGroup
2008Steeling the Gaze: Portraits by Aboriginal ArtistsNational Gallery of Canada ,Ottawa, OntarioGroup
2008Evidence: The Ottawa City ProjectOttawa Art Gallery ,Ottawa, OntarioGroup
2008Zacharie Vincent and His FriendsEspace 400 ,Quebec City, QuebecGroup
2008Face the NationArt Gallery of Alberta ,EdmontonGroup
2007Jeff Thomas: Traces of Iroquois MedicineOntario Museum of Archaeology ,London,OntarioGroup
2007Orientalism & EphemeraOttawa Art Gallery ,Ottawa, OntarioGroup
2007Oh So IroquoisOttawa Art Gallery ,Ottawa, OntarioGroup
2007Intersections: Photographs of the CityCarleton University Art Gallery ,Ottawa, OntarioGroup
2007Cultural Contrasts: Contemporary Iroquois CommentariesIroquois Indian Museum ,Howes Cave, New YorkGroup
2007Shelley Niro and Jeff Thomas: Contemporary VoicesCanada House ,London, EnglandDuo
2006BorrowingNational Gallery of Canada ,Ottawa, OntarioGroup
2006Heteropia: Works from the Contemporary CollectionOttawa Art Gallery ,Ottawa, OntarioGroup
2006Addressing OakvilleOakville Galleries ,Oakville, OntarioGroup
2005Portraits from the Dancing GroundsMcMichael Canadian Art Collection ,Kleinburg, OntarioGroup
2005American WestCompton Verney ,Warwickshire, EnglandGroup
2005About Face: Native American Self-PortraitsWheelwright Museum of the American Indian ,Santa Fe, New MexicoGroup
2004 Jeff Thomas: A Study of Indian-nessGallery 44 ,Toronto, OntarioSolo
2004Scouting for IndiansOakville Galleries ,Oakville, OntarioGroup
2004Dezhan ejan: Aboriginal Works from the Collection of the Canada Council Art BankCanadian Embassy ,Washington D.C.Group
2004EncountersLewis and Clark College ,Portland, OregonGroup
2004Possible Futures: Utopia Dystopia, Case StudiesHarbourfront ,Toronto, OntarioGroup
2004Active Ground, Parallel TracksCity of Ottawa Art Gallery ,Ottawa, OntarioGroup
2003The Master Prints of Edward S. CurtisMashantucket Pequot Museum ,Mashantucket, ConnecticutGroup
2003The Bigger Picture: Portraits from OttawaThe Ottawa Art Gallery ,Ottawa, OntarioGroup
2003Life Worlds – Artscape Contemporary Iroquois ArtMuseum der Weltkulturen ,Frankfurt, GermanyGroup
2003Buffalo Creek RevisitedKarpeles Museum ,Buffalo, New YorkGroup
2003The Political is Personal: A First Nations PerspectiveQueen’s Park ,Toronto, OntarioGroup
2003Everyday Lights: Family Photographs Selected by Contemporary First Nations Artists,The Thunder Bay Art Gallery ,Thunder Bay, OntarioGroup
2003First Peoples HallCanadian Museum of Civilization ,Hull, QuebecGroup
2003Artists from Ontario: The Canada Council Art Bank CollectionQueen’s Park ,TorontoGroup
2002interSECTIONIndian Art Centre ,Hull, QuebecSolo
2002Americas RemixedMilan, ItalyGroup
2002Collections in ContextOttawa Art Gallery ,Ottawa, OntarioGroup
2002Mediating ViolenceTribe ,Saskatoon, SaskatchewanGroup
2002Indian Art FactsGeorge Eastman House ,Rochester, New YorkGroup
2001Scouting for IndiansArtspace ,Peterborough, OntarioSolo
2001Lurking in the ShadowsMusée de l’Elysée ,Lausanne, SwitzerlandSolo
2001Geronimo Was in HereBuffalo Arts Studio ,Buffalo, New YorkSolo
2001Scouting for IndiansArtspace ,Peterborough, OntarioGroup
2001Lurking in the ShadowsMusée de l’Elysée ,Lausanne, SwitzerlandGroup
2001Geronimo Was in HereBuffalo Arts Studio ,Buffalo, New YorkGroup
2001The Pan-American Exposition Centennial: Images of the American IndianBurchfield-Penny Art Center ,Buffalo, New YorkGroup
2001Spirit CaptureNational Museum of the American Indian ,New York, New YorkGroup
2000Ghost Dancing on the Urban FrontierPhotographers Gallery ,Saskatoon, SaskatchewanSolo
2000SCOUTING for IndiansCarleton University Art Gallery ,Ottawa, OntarioGroup
2000The Powwow: An Art HistoryThe Mackenzie Art Gallery ,Regina, SaskatchewanGroup
2000Ottawa on DisplayOttawa Art Gallery ,Ottawa, OntarioGroup
1999A Category in Question: Native Art from the Permanent CollectionCarleton University Art Gallery ,Ottawa, OntarioGroup
1999Crossing Borders: Beadwork in Iroquois LifeMcCord Museum ,Montreal, QuebecGroup
1999Kenh tsi Yohwentsyate On This Land (Jeff Thomas & David Maracle) York Quay Gallery, Harbourfront Centre ,Toronto, OntarioDuo
1998IroquoisARTAmerica Haus ,Frankfurt, GermanyGroup
1997SprawlMercer Union ,Toronto, OntarioGroup
1997Six Artists Six NationsAmerican Indian Contemporary Arts ,San Francisco, CaliforniaGroup
1996Portraits from the Dancing GroundsOttawa Art Gallery ,Ottawa, OntarioGroup
1996Red River Crossings: Contemporary Native American Artists Respond to Peter Rindisbacher (1806-1834)The Swiss Institute ,New York City, New York Group
1996Strong Hearts: Native Visions and VoicesThe Smithsonian Institution International Gallery ,WashingtonD.C.Group
1996Discernment – The Building of a Public Contemporary Art CollectionThe Ottawa Art Gallery ,Ottawa, OntarioGroup
1995AlterNative ,Kleinburg, OntarioGroup
1995Positive NegativeStreet Level Gallery ,Glasgow, ScotlandGroup
1994From Icebergs to Iced TeaThunder Bay National Exhibition Center ,Thunder Bay,Group
1994In the Shadow of the EagleCastellani Art Museum ,Niagara University, New YorkGroup
1994Keepers of the Western DoorCEPA Gallery ,Buffalo, New YorkGroup
1993The Art of Memory and TransformationCanadian Museum of Civilization ,Hull, QuebecGroup
1992We the Human Beings, 27 Contemporary Native American ArtistsThe College of Wooster Art Museum ,Wooster, OhioGroup
1992Greg Staats & Jeffrey Thomas: Perspectives from IroquoiaGallery 44 ,Toronto, OntarioDuo
1991Our LandOurselves: American Indian Contemporary Artists ,The University Art Gallery, AlbanyGroup
1991The Photographs of Jeff ThomasEn Foco Gallery ,Bronx, New YorkGroup
1986Beyond Blue MountainsWorks of Traditional and Contemporary Native Artists ,Olympia, WashingtonGroup
1985Powwow Images: An Exhibition of Photography by Jeffrey ThomasThunder Bay National Exhibition Centre ,Thunder Bay, OntarioGroup
1985Photography and the American IndianPrinceton University ,Princeton, New JerseyGroup
1984The American Indian Photographers ShowSouthern Plains Indian Museum ,Anadarko, OklahomaGroup
1983In Western New York ExhibitionAlbright Knox Art Gallery ,Buffalo, New YorkGroup
1983Indian Art ’83Woodland Cultural Museum ,Brantford, OntarioGroup
1983Six Nations SevenJoe and Emily Lowe Art Gallery ,Syracuse, New YorkGroup
1982Triptych Peripheral VisionRyerson Polytechnical Institute ,Toronto, OntarioGroup
1982Contemporary Iroquois ArtThe Queens Museum ,Flushing, New YorkGroup
198238th Western New York ExhibitionAlbright Knox Art Gallery ,Buffalo, New YorkGroup
1981Indian Art in the ’80sNative American Centre for the Living Arts ,Niagara Falls, New YorkGroup
1980In Search of Visions – CEPA Metro Bus Showsponsored by CEPA Gallery Buffalo, New YorkGroup
1980Hallwall’s Summer Space ShowBuffalo, New YorkGroup
1980CEPA Gallery Members ShowBuffalo, New YorkGroup