[2023] Richelle Greabeiel


Curated by Alejandro A. Barbosa

November 4 - December 2, 2023
Gallery 881, Vancouver, Canada

'metsänpeitto (by Richelle Greabeiel)'

“I live in the continuous rehearsal of labels I have heard since childhood: ‘Your thighs are the Finnish part of you.’”
– Richelle Greabeiel

Just as any spoken word that has been transcribed, its tone has been lost. However, when I read it, I sense a tone of condemnation, irrational and categorical. There doesn't appear to be a lesson in it. Its brevity suggests despair, despair for beliefs that are unquestioningly passed down. Incomplete and unrevised, this myth renders Richelle's body as a carrier of material remnants from past generations, a body symbolically molded for her: "Your thighs are the Finnish part of you" – regardless of who you are.

Richelle's determination to challenge a family myth imposed upon her—intersecting colonial Finnish heritage and gendered physical stereotypes—led her to explore Finnish folklore, where she discovered "metsänpeitto," a term that can be translated into English as "to be covered in forest" and as "a state of being where a familiar forest becomes unrecognizable." This metaphor inspired Richelle to undertake a time in residence at the Art Shed Residency in Sointula, BC, during January 2023.

Sointula is a village situated on the unceded, ancestral, and traditional Kwakwaka’wakw territory of the 'Namgis, Mamalilikala, and Kwakiutl Nations, known by the colonial name Malcolm Island in BC. Originally founded in 1901 by socialist Finnish settlers, the village has been associated with progressive, albeit colonial, ideas regarding gender equality, governance, economy, and social roles.

During her residency, Richelle conducted a series of performances that explored the physical and symbolic connections between her body and the myths imposed on her as an individual, as they intersected with those imposed on that specific unceded Kwakwaka'wakw territory. Richelle's performances involved simple actions carried out on-site, such as walking, collecting, hiding, covering herself in clay, sound recording, video recording, and photographing herself, all done without assistance.

In our collaborative effort for this exhibition, Richelle and I aimed to present her experience of inhabiting these myths in an effort to undo them. While the works and the exhibition themselves are one step further removed from her performances, they seek to account for Richelle's experience, in that they are sought externally and yet remain indistinguishable from Richelle's inner self. Personally, I propose that when Richelle ventured into the cold January forest, she delved into the core of the THGH myth, exposing and challenging its seemingly neutral and reductive narrative of heritage, and its complicity in the history and erasure of colonial violence on unceded Kwakwaka'wakw land.

Alejandro A. Barbosa
located on the unceded, traditional
and ancestral territory of the S?wx?wú7mesh (Squamish),
Stó:l? and S?l?ílw?ta?/Selilwitulh (Tsleil-Waututh),
x?m??k??y??m (Musqueam) nations.

metsänpeitto at Gallery 881

2023, prints on charred wood boxes
Untitled (from the Sointula series): 2023, prints on charred wood boxes