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Benjamin Cheechee

Native Artist 1944 - 1977

Ojibwa artist Benjamin Chee Chee was born in the Spring of 1944 in Temagami, Ontario.

At birth his name was registered as Kenneth Thomas Chee Chee.  His father died when he was two months old. Left alone, his mother struggled to meet his physical and emotional needs, so he had a very troubled childhood. 

At some point in his youth he began using the name Benjamin.  He and his mother were separated and for unknown reasons he lost track of her.

One reason behind his  drive for success as a painter was his ambition to be reunited with her.

By the late 60's Norval Morrisseau's success and fame inspired Benjamin to pick up a brush.  At the time he was living in Montreal and it was there that he developed his minimalist style of fluid lines depicting birds and animals in graceful motion.

It was in 1973 that Daphne Odjig, Jackson Beardy and Alex Janvier had their ground breaking group show, Treaty Numbers 23, 287 and 1171 in Winnipeg.  Suddenly the art world was on the look out for more First Nation's talent. 

Chee Chee's first exhibition was later in 1973 at the University of Ottawa. 

In one way Benjamin Chee was influenced by his predecessors.  He insisted that he was "an Ojibway artist", not "just an Indian artist".  But he rebuffed the idea that his images were symbolic.  He spoke of the birds and animals in his paintings as being "creatures of the present". 

Benjamin's success did help him re-unite with his mother but that wasn't enough to show him away through the despair, hurt, pain and addiction that had been part of his life for so long.

At the age of thirty-two and at the height of success as an artist and printmaker, Chee Chee committed suicide in an Ottawa jail.

Recent Posthumous Exhibitions

1991 Benjamin Chee Chee: The Black Geese Portfolio, and Other Works. Thunder Bay Art Gallery, Ontario

1983 Contemporary Indian Art at Rideau Hall.
Indian and Northern Affairs Canada, Ottawa, Ontario

1982 Glebe Community Centre, Ottawa, Ontario

1977 Marion Scott Galleries, Vancouver, British Columbia
Links to Tradition.
Indian and Northern Affairs Canada (travelling)

Early Exhibitions:

1976 Evans Gallery, Toronto, Ontario
The Sea Chest, Halifax, Nova Scotia

Inukshuk Gallery, Waterloo, Ontario

1974 Doma II Art Gallery, Waterloo, Ontario
Canadian Indian Art '74.
Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto, Ontario

1973 University of Ottawa, Ontario

Selected Collections

Canadian Museum of Civilization, Hull, Québec
Glenbow Museum, Calgary, Alberta
Indian and Northern Affairs Canada, Ottawa, Ontario
McMichael Canadian Art Collection, Kleinberg, Ontario
Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto, Ontario
Thunder Bay Art Gallery, Thunder Bay, Ontario
Woodland Cultural Centre, Brantford, Ontario

Selected Bibliography

Angus, Murray. "Monument marks grave of artist." Windspeaker 15, no. 4 (August 1997): 8, 24.

Burnham, Clint. Review of The Benjamin Chee Chee elegies by Patrick White. Books In Canada 22, no. 5 (Summer 1993): 59-60.

Canadian Museum of Civilization, ed. In the Shadow of the Sun: Perspectives on Contemporary Native Art. Hull, Québec: The Museum, 1993.

Cardinal-Schubert, Joane. "In the red." In Borrowed Power: Essays on Cultural Appropriation, eds. Bruce Ziff and Pratima V. Rao, 122-133. New Brunswick, New Jersey: Rutgers University Press, 1997.

Cardinal-Schubert, Joane. Time for Dialogue: Contemporary Artists. Calgary, Alberta: Aboriginal Awareness Society, 1992.

Dempsey, Ian. Review o f The Benjamin Chee Chee elegies by Patrick White. Canadian Materials 21, no. 1 (January 1993): 14.

McLuhan, Elizabeth, ed. Benjamin Chee Chee: Paintings and Prints in the Collection of the Thunder Bay Art Gallery. Thunder Bay, Ontario: The Gallery, 1984.

Menitove, Marcy, ed. The Permanent Collection: Thunder Bay Art Gallery, Thunder Bay, Ontario: The Gallery, 1986.

Southcott, Mary E. The Sound of the Drum: The Sacred Art of the Anishnabec. Erin, Ontario: Boston Mills Press, 1984.

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