For “Home on Native Land,” a beautifully presented show of provocative new work by Indigenous and Aboriginal artists at Toronto’s Bell Lightbox cultural center, curator Steven Loft channeled his Mohawk heritage. But the exhibit’s dominant themes — home, roots, historical injustice — might also speak to Loft’s Jewish identity. Aboriginal on his father’s side, Loft is the son of a Jewish mother whose parents escaped Germany before the Holocaust. By day, Loft is a Trudeau National Visiting Fellow at Ryerson University in Toronto, where he researches Indigenous art and aesthetics; until 2009, he was the Curator-In-Residence of Indigenous Art at the National Gallery of Canada, in Ottawa. He talked to The Arty Semite about the intersections of Jewish and Aboriginal culture, First Nations art and how his parents met.
Michael Kaminer: First of all, can you talk about your background? Even in New York, we don’t often meet Mohawk Jews.
Steven Loft: My mom was a bit of a rebel, and was a bit of a handful for my grandparents. At 16, she met a dashing young man at a local dance. His name was Howard Loft, and he was a Mohawk, living in Hamilton [Ontario], but originally from the nearby Six Nations Reserve. I was born the following year.
Did each side of your family accept the other? Did the Jews embrace the Mohawk, and vice-versa?