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Hands Off My Genes
jeans, porcupine quills, curator, First nations women artist, mixed media sculpture, non-traditional materials, cloning, black market, loss of land, humour, satire, social commentary, voice, bio-medical research, testing of people's genes,word-play, threatening, intimidating, traditional, Aboriginal art, juxtaposition, heridity, sexuality,

In the  traditionTradition is the passing along of a culture from generation to generation, especially orally. Or, a custom or set of customs handed down in this way. The idea of heritage is related to that of tradition. Any activity — as a pattern of celebration, ritual, or other behaviour, etc. — is traditional once it is a precedent influencing comparable activities in the future. (  of the Surrealists and the Dadaists, Morgan Wood has taken a  foundAn image, material, or object, not originally intended as a work of art, that is obtained, selected, and exhibited by an artist, often without being altered in any way. The cubists, dadaists, and surrealists originated the use of found images / materials / objects. Although it can be either a natural or manufactured image / material / object, the term readymade refers only to those which were manufactured. Also known in the French, objet trouvé. (  object and made it her own. Her  sculptureA three-dimensional work of art, or the art of making it. Such works may be carved, modeled, constructed, or cast. Sculptures can also be described as assemblage, in the round, and relief, and made in a huge variety of media. A sculptor is one who creates sculptures. (  Hands Off My Genes is not unlike the fur-covered teacup, spoon and saucer assemblage created by Meret Oppenheim or the urinal sculpture selected by Marcel Duchamp, titled Fountain and signed R. Mutt.

The main component of Wood’s sculpture is a pair of found blue jeans that have been stuffed to resemble a woman’s legs and abdomen. What strikes the viewer about the jeans is the  juxtapositionCombining two or more objects that don’t usually go together to cause the viewer to consider both objects differently.  of the porcupine quills and the popular clothing item and the fact that the jeans are hanging by clear nylon string at eye level in an art gallery. Initially, the sculpture is amusing and may even make you laugh but, on reflection, the prickly quill extrusions are somewhat threatening . The erect quills foster a sense of fear or foreboding as contact with a frightened porcupine will cause considerable pain and suffering to anyone who ventures near.

start quoteBelieve in yourself.end quote-- Morgan Wood

With her roots in  First NationsFirst Nations is a contemporary term referring to the Indian peoples of Canada, both status and non-status (definition from Indian and Northern Affairs Canada). To find out more about Canada’s First Nations, go to: Assembly of First Nations: Village of First Nations: Canada’s First Nations: Wikipedia:   ancestry and culture, Wood has been influenced by traditional Aboriginal art and materials. Porcupine quills were traditionally softened and dyed and woven into leather or birch bark. Quill  embroideryTo embroider is to ornament with needlework — making and arranging stitches of variously coloured threads — or to make by means of needlework. Embroidery is the act or art of embroidering. Or, it is ornamention of fabric with needlework, a piece of embroidered fabric, or embellishment with fanciful details. Fabric to be embroidered can be more easily worked if it is stretched within an embroidery hoop. Most embroidery needles are curved. (  was extensively used to decorate war shirts, medicine bags, moccasins and baskets. When seed beads were introduced, they became more popular than porcupine quills because they are easier to use and easier to maintain.

The title, Hands Off My Genes contains a play on words. While Wood presents an image of unwelcoming blue ‘jeans’ in the sculpture, her title leads us to think about ‘genes’, the basic units of heredity passed down from one generation to the next. According to Morgan Wood, this particular work was produced as a strong reaction to a CBC documentary. In the documentary, the discussion was centered around the cloning of Aboriginal genes and their consequent sale on the black market. She likened these events to the lack of control her grandparents experienced when they lost their land. Her anger led to the creation of this work as a means of voicing her concerns.

additional resources Things to Think About
  • Carry out research to learn more about biomedical research and the social, ethical and legal implications of testing groups of peoples in the name of medical research.
  • Many pharmaceutical and research companies are patenting various genes they discover.  Who owns the properties found in the blood? What are our human rights in this regard?
  • Discuss the pros and cons of genetically engineered food.  Who would own the patent on sage that grows in the wild?
  • Research and gather information on Aboriginal quill art forms and practices. You might begin with a website such as Porcupine Quillwork and Hair.
  • Research heredity and find examples of how your parents and grandparents may be seen in your appearance and interests. You might begin online by looking at a site with a simple explanation such as Genetics Links for kids and then move on to find answers to some more complicated questions at Introduction to Genetics
  • How much of our personalities are determined by heredity and how much are determined by our environments?
  • Could this artwork be a comment on sexuality, intermarriage and acculturation? Could Morgan Wood be thinking about loss of cultural practices through intermarriage?
  • Research to learn about the Canadian artists called The Group of Seven?  What artists would Wood possibly want to include in her book titled The Other Group of Seven?

  • What message do you think Wood is communicating in this work? Why would she be discouraging contact (through use of the porcupine quills)? Might this somehow be related to sexuality and love?
Studio Activity
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  • Curate your own exhibition by rearranging the images available to you on this website.


Morgan Wood use the image of blue jeans in Hands Off My Genes to voice political and social concern

  • Redesign your own jeans to say something about you.
  • Add material, sequins, beads, writing, stitching, etc. to decorate and enhance the clothing.

Word play


Allward, Mary.  ‘Victoria Callihou.’, June 23. 2001.  Retrieved from the Internet on August 14, 2008 from:

Canadian Heritage University of Regina Mackenzie Art Gallery Mendel Art Gallery Sask Learning