A Landscape in Flux: Emily Carr’s Zunoqua of the Cat Village and the Moment of Colonization

  • Constance Roberts University of Massachusetts Amherst


This paper examines the reception and understanding of First Nations culture in white colonizing society using scholarly writings to analyze texts and paintings from Emily Carr’s contemporaries, as well as photos from exhibitions that Carr participated in.

Emily Carr is recognized as an iconic Canadian artist and writer, known for her expressive paintings of the British Columbian landscape and her award-winning book Klee Wyck. During her lifetime, however, Carr did not receive national recognition for her paintings of First Nations culture. Instead, she worked alone in her home province of British Columbia, isolated from artistic circles in eastern Canada. In 1932, Carr painted Zunoqua of the Cat Village, depicting an abandoned First Nations village overrun by vegetation. The painting captures the colonization of British Columbia and expresses the tension between Carr’s position as a white woman and her genuine interest in ethnographic preservation of First Nations culture. This tension enlivens her painting but undermined her aspirations for artistic recognition by subordinating her work to that of the Group of Seven, the predominant modern painters in Canada. Her position as a white woman, regardless of her intentions, undermined the ethnographic value of her work; as a member of colonizing society, she could not accurately portray the First Nations culture she wanted to preserve. Examining the expression of colonization in an iconic Canadian’s art draws attention to the exclusion of First Nations people from both politics and art.

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