Skip to content

May we suggest

Collecting Guide / March 24, 2020

The Collectors: Jeneen Frei Njootli

Dana Claxton, <em>Headdress–Jeneen</em>, 2018. Collection Jeneen Frei Njootli. Dana Claxton, Headdress–Jeneen, 2018. Collection Jeneen Frei Njootli.
Dana Claxton, <em>Headdress–Jeneen</em>, 2018. Collection Jeneen Frei Njootli. Dana Claxton, Headdress–Jeneen, 2018. Collection Jeneen Frei Njootli.

Artist; Assistant Professor, Department of Art History, Visual Art and Theory, University of British Columbia
Location: Vancouver

I don’t necessarily identify as an “art collector.” The majority of the works I have came to me through my kinship system, and even as we see a growing acceptance of Indigenous material culture into what is known as contemporary art, the idea that this could be considered a “collection” is complicated. Referring to the things that are dear to me as a collection doesn’t do them justice or is not the right word to speak to the relationships around the works.

Some of the artworks I have are from trades or were made collaboratively or dialogically. One painting I have was given to me as part of a trade for a tattoo. I have an artwork by Amy Malbeuf that she gave to me in exchange for a sound work to score her film The Length of Grief. The mask that was given to me by Dayna Danger was custom-made for me, in dialogue with me. They actually made it while we were together installing an exhibition. For me, the mask is a symbol of our kinship and the love and care that we have between us. Another significant piece I have was also gifted to me, by Dana Claxton, when I sat for her Headdress photo series.


“In terms of an art collection, what does it mean to have snowshoes made by a late Elder, Robert Frances, from Fort McPherson? What does it mean to think about that as part of my collection?”

I think it’s also interesting to talk about Indigenous practices and collecting in terms of what’s happening, for example, around earrings and trade. I have earrings from Haus of Dizzy, who’s an Australian Indigenous artist and activist. I have earrings by Tahltan artist and collaborator Tsēmā Igharas. Then I have tattoos that Dion Kaszas gave me when James Luna and I first met. Can these be considered part of a collection? When we wear things from our material culture it’s a way of being proud of our culture, of where we come from, but also of supporting other artists and makers.

I’ve been fortunate to have people purchase my work and enter their collections; that’s helped my livelihood and my career. I want to do the same thing for younger artists. I think it’s significant, too, for there to be more Indigenous people collecting Indigenous art. As for acquisition practices, it’s really important that institutions are starting to repatriate belongings. As much as it’s important to talk about collections, it’s also important to talk about repatriation.

This post is adapted from the Canadian Art Collecting Guide, out in our Spring 2020 issue, “Influence.”