THE CURATOR AS A 21ST CENTURY AGENT OF CHANGE: Leah Snyder presents at the Michaëlle Jean Foundation’s Power of the Arts Forum

Since the end of August life has been a blur of important events, all of which focus on CHANGE.

Change the way we protect the environment. In August, at the People’s Social Forum Ottawa, I was introduced to people who have become activists out of the necessity to ensure that the land we share is safe.

Change the way we fund community initiatives. In September I was one of 40+ professionals invited by the Governor General David Johnston to be part of a think tank at Rideau Hall that was centred around creating a new Foundation for Canada.

Change the way we construct historical archives. In October I participated in the Aboriginal Curatorial Collective Colloquium in Montreal where one of the main focuses was best practice design for the structure of digital archives that challenge entrenched national narratives.

Change the way we think about diversity. In November I presented at the Michaëlle Jean Foundation’s The Power of the Arts Forum. I encountered many cultural provocateurs who are adding to the discussion around what diversity looks like.

My own presentation assessed the role the institutional curator can play in facilitating deep cultural transformation in Canada.

Since 2010 when I began to write about contemporary culture in Canada I have been fortunate to to attend hundreds and hundreds (and hundreds!) of events. What this gives me is a bird’s eye view of the changing cultural landscape. I have the luxury of being able to stand back as well as step in allowing me both critical distance and intimate knowledge of the environment.

It was a great opportunity to speak at The Power of the Arts and my fellow presenters offered me even more inspiration, ideas and provocative food for thought around broadening the definition of what we mean when we say ‘diversity’.

Below is the transcript of my presentation as well as the Powerpoint images with the accompanying text. If you want to read the presentation along with the images you can click on the top left image and the rest will follow!

black stroke

black stroke

2013 was a year that Canada experienced a lot of growing pains. We are a young nation and sometimes we act with youthful grace and other times with the messy inappropriateness of bodies not yet used to the skin they are quickly expanding into.

Idle No More was a movement that probably wasn’t on most people’s radar when it first formed but it rapidly spread thanks to the brilliant ease that technology allows messages to travel.

What it also did was start to shake the foundational narratives and pushed Canada into a bit of an identity crisis.

And an identity crisis can be good a thing. Even healthy! If it is recognized as a moment to reflect back on who you were before the rug was pulled out from underneath you.

And like any identity crisis the signs were already pointing to a breakdown long before it happened. If you step away from the history of colonization and the impact it has had on Indigenous populations there are other histories Canada has had trouble acknowledging – slavery in Canada, the treatment of Japanese Canadians during World War II, and the unfortunate history of the community of Africville, Nova Scotia to name a few.

Canada has not always been a safe place for new immigrants and there are still areas where many Canadians feel they are outsiders in their own nation. LGBTQ rights have been a work in progress and away from urban centres it can still be unsafe to be open about your sexuality.

But I have hope. BIG HOPE! I know Canada is going to make it through this incredibly painful time where collectively as a Nation we are having to acknowledge hard truths about our history.

WHY am I so hopeful? Because I have the wonderful fortune of working in the Arts (and with people like this)

This is where I see amazing work being done. And I see a lot of that work happening in institutional settings.

Outside of producing Mixed Bag Mag I am also a web designer. Many of my clients are artists, and more specifically Indigenous artists whose work is about dialoguing with national narratives regarding historical and contemporary realities of First Peoples in Canada.

One of my clients is Jeff Thomas, a self-described Urban Iroquois, and who I have dubbed “The Godfather of Indigenous Urban Photography.” I will come back to him later but where I want to start my story is on a cold, winter night in Toronto that included a snow storm, a Tribe Called Red and a gifted ticket from a stranger on Facebook. I found myself, last minute, at the Art Gallery of Ontario for First Thursdays.

If you don’t know about first Thursdays, it’s a great event that happens the first Thursday of every month at the AGO. The night includes entry to the exhibits, live music, performance art, interactive demos and food. This particular Thursday A Tribe Called Red was performing.

Despite the cold it was a hot night! Sold OUT! I left my decision to go so late I couldn’t even get a media pass so I put a call out on Facebook and a friend -of-a-friend gave me his ticket.

I stood above the crowd packed into Walker Court in order to get a good photograph. What I witnessed made me stop and put my camera down to take it all in. I have these times as a photographer where I know I need to stop and spend time with the moment – to just feel the energetics of the space. I was having one of those moments.

Duncan Campbell Scott, the man who was head of Indian Affairs in the early 1900s was quoted as saying “The happiest future for the Indian race is absorption into the general population, and this is the object and policy of our government.” Here were 3 men – 3 men that if Duncan Campbell Scott had his way would not exist – being unapologetically Indigenous. And the crowd could not get enough of their beats that include mixing dance hall, reggae, hip hop and powwow.

One of the members of Tribe is Jeff Thomas’ son – Bear Witness.

I know he is damn proud of Bear’s work because as he says “he is reaching people I never could.” So why is Bear, a DJ who re-mixes club music, playing for a young, fashionable crowd so important? Because traditionally spaces of Western Culture are not welcoming spaces if you are someone who lies outside the dominant culture. If you are Indigenous, African, South American, basically any culture conquered by the European Countries and colonized you have undoubtedly found your culture being reduced to relics in the structures that dictate what is culturally relevant – even what is culturally ALIVE.

And now a quick history lesson on Museums and Galleries.

The history of what Philippe de Montebello, former director of The Metropolitan Museum Art, calls the “Universal Museum” is around 200 years old. The concept, which we are all familiar with, is to take a look at the world, in chronological order, a linear space where we move through time – a documentation of “PROGRESS.” This type of space allowed for aesthetic connections to be made between culture objects from varying places from the same points in time – a visual record of history – but whose history?

The Louvre was the first public museum. The princes wanted to show what they had “acquired.”

As de Montebello says “Western museums started because they felt legitimately entitled to take the art of the places they were conquering and bring them back to study them.”

With this start as the backdrop it is easy to understand how objects became festishized for their aesthetic and stripped of the human stories that accompany
…their creation,
…their use within their own culture context,
…and then the often tragic events that lead to their acquisition in the collections.

But in the context of the pluralistic realities that we live in now this way of organizing what is our experience of culture is highly problematic. We know there is more than one entry point to history and multiple views are not only valid they are necessary to reconstruct a strong foundation upon which to move forward.

While on a recent trip to New York City I visited the Brooklyn Museum. They had this tremendously beautiful gallery space that was about just that – the act of reconstruction.

As you entered into the space you were met with the words “CONNECTING CULTURES…Museums bring the world’s treasures to the public. Like many other museums The Brooklyn Museum collects works of art in order to inspire, uplift and inform.”

The room was a glorious hodge podge of exquisite and ancient craftsmanship and work by contemporary artists. It was clear that in this space notions of hierarchy were dissolved. A linear progression was abandoned. Instead there was a conversation between equals. And that is an important note of difference.

This image says it all because this young boy who was there studying and taking notes would have been denied access to this museum in a recent past.

Everywhere you turned in the museum you were met by thoughtful curation and diadatic panels that added more voices to the mix. And their emphasis on presenting contemporary African-American artists like Kehinde Whiley makes sense in a community where there is a huge Black population.

Ok, so enough about America, let’s get back to Canada and that night at the Art Gallery of Ontario. The AGO, at the height of Idle No More movement, just weeks after Chief Spence ended her hunger strike, had Tribe programmed to perform. Inside an institutional space that traditionally was about implied exclusivity the performance of 3 men related the message:

NOT ONLY AM I ALIVE, BUT I AM YOUR CONTEMPORARY.
NOT ONLY HAVE MY PEOPLE SURVIVED BUT WE THRIVE.

That’s powerful stuff, especially in light of the historical documents currently being uncovered that speak to the strategies to annihilate Indigenous populations here in Canada.

A few months after that Tribe performance at the AGO the National Gallery of Canada had an exciting opening – Sakahàn: International Indigenous Art Exhibit – that included 150 works of recent Indigenous art by over 80 artists.

This exhibit was the groundbreaking because of the fact it was the first of its kind – an exhibit that took an international scope of Indigenous artists alive, THRIVING, today. This wasn’t a show about surveying artifacts. This was an exhibit about the relevance of Indigenous artists using their practice as social commentary. Sakahàn was long in the making before Idle No More but the timing was certainly interesting as it situated the work of Indigenous artists working in Canada in the present tense. Canadians could frame the work with current events of Idle No More, Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the call for an inquiry into the  Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women.

Sakahàn means to strike a light, a fire, in the Algonquin language. Algonquin people, part of the greater cultural group of Anishinaabeg peoples, are the traditional custodians of this land where Ottawa is now located so it was an appropriate and important gesture to use this as the show’s title.

The three curators who organized this immense project were Greg Hill (Audain Curator of Indigenous Art) and Christine Lalonde (Associate Curator of Indigenous Art) of the National Gallery as well as independent curator Candice Hopkins (Elizabeth Simonfay Guest Curator).

I am grateful to Greg, Kayen’kahaka (Mohawk) of the Six Nations of the Grand River, for giving me an thorough tour of the show. What blew me away was the fact that the artists in this show were working way beyond being concerned with just an aesthetic. They were working from deeply personal spaces. They understood their role as artists and their responsibility as cultural producers to make visible what has been buried.

It was overwhelming, emotional, beautiful, and I went back 5 more times. One of the most powerful things that Sakahàn did was it reached out to the larger arts community in Ottawa. Auxiliary shows and events happened all over the city. This is where I felt Sakahàn had it’s most transformative impact. In Ottawa last summer, you encountered contemporary Indigenous art everywhere.

But Sakahàn wasn’t the only show that year that managed to squeeze itself into the institutional space to force open a crack to allow change in.

Between  2013 to 2014 I have lost count of how many shows I have attended that are about using an institutional space to create meaning around contested histories, controversies, and current events. This doesn’t even include the shows that came prior to 2013. Many people have invested blood, sweat and tears and had doors shut on them. It’s the legacy of their labour that allows for the incredible explosion of culturally transformative work we are witnessing now.

I have seen these types of shows in New York and here at home in Montreal, Toronto, and Ottawa as well as smaller cities like Kitchener, Oakville, Oshawa, and Markham. Something has definitely shifted!

The door is now open and there is no going back into the shadows.

In recent news The Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto has been open about their epic fail when they launched “Into the Heart of Africa” in 1989 – a re-framing of the Africa collection through colonial eyes. Although meant to be a critique, once it opened what was demonstrated was that the curators were still not willing to consider that perhaps their framing perpetuated hurtful narratives. There were protests that had little immediate impact but what we see now, as we approach the 25th anniversary, is a demonstration in best practice around the complexities of reconsidering history from alternate perspectives.

The ROM has brought in Julie Crooks and Dominique Fontaine to curate “Of Africa” a “multiplatform and multiyear project aimed at rethinking historical and contemporary representations of Africa.”

On October 24 the ROM Hosted a symposium in preparation for “Of Africa” that included panel discussion on “Learning from Into the Heart of Africa.”

“The elephant in the room” as Silvia Forni the ROM’s curator for African programming calls it has now become a moment upon which something transformative AND truthful can be built.

We are in a beautiful moment in time. We can be intentional about how we move forward to create change. There is opportunity for everyone’s voice to be represented at the table. Best practice around how to navigate this new space we are in is:

  • First acknowledge the hard truths

  • Second, like the ROM, acknowledge how communities were wronged

  • Be ok with being uncomfortable

  • Be open to learn something new

  • Inquire about Protocol

  • Outreach to communities

  • Get to know the leaders

I am going to book end this talk by finishing where we started at the AGO’s Walker’s Court. On July 30 this year, on a little warmer of a night, with no snow storms in the forecast, Beyond the Horizon: Anishinaabe Artists of the Great Lakes opened. At the very top of the court were a series of drums by Anishinaabe artist Robert Houle, who was also in attendance. The drums hang in the place where the German artist Lother Baumgarten was commissioned, in 1984, to do a site-specific work that he titled Monument for the Native People of Ontario. In this piece it was clear that neither Baumgarten nor the AGO did their research. The recent AGO renovation did away with the install and now Robert’s work intervenes in the neo-classical space with his series that references the Seven Grandfather Teachings of the Anishinaabeg peoples.

  • Zaagi’idiwin / Love

  • Nibwaakaawin / Wisdom

  • Dabaadendiziwin / Humility

  • Minaadendamowin / Respect

  • Debwewin / Truth

  • Aakode’ewin / Courage

  • Gwayakwaadiziwin / Honesty

The opening began with prayer and song by Elder Garry Sault who spoke in both Anishinaabemowin and English followed by a welcoming by Chief Bryan LaForme of the Mississaugas of the New Credit First Nation.

Also on the agenda that  night was an awards ceremony. Metis artist Christi Belcourt, the woman behind the initiative Walking With Our Sisters, received the Ontario Arts Council’s Aboriginal Arts Award. When Christi got up to accept her award she used it as a platform to educate the audience about the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women. Her act was an important intervention into the space.

In the palatial court part of the Beaux Art structure built in 1920s and revamped by architect Frank Gehry in 2008 what could have been just-another-art-party became a somber and important moment of remembering.

When Andrew Hunter, Curator of Canadian Art at the AGO, came up to the podium to speak he made one thing clear – this was not a show of contemporary art paired with “artifacts” but of contemporary artists juxtaposed with past masters. Indigenous art has often been presented as relics of a dead culture far removed from contemporary realities and without relevance to current events.

This small statement powerfully defines how today’s institutional curator can be an instrument for change.

Andrew stood in solidarity with a community who has had the institutional door closed on them many times.

At some point in the evening I took a moment to go back up to the area where I watched A Tribe Called Red perform over a year before. Again, like that night, Walker Court was packed full of people from all backgrounds and all walks of life. I took a few photos. Then I put my camera down.

I listened to the moment.
I heard change.

Thank you. Merci. Miigwetch.
black stroke

Check out Mixed Bag Mag’s poster submissions for The Power of the Arts. Top poster features talented dancer / choreographer Emily Law, middle poster visual artist Ekow Nimako with his amazing work, and dancer / choreographer Esie Mensah, another beautiful talent!



REMEMBRANCE DAY OTTAWA: Monuments, Memory & the Cultural Amnesia Many Work to Change

Remembrance Day at the National Aboriginal Veterans Monument & the National War Memorial.

I will let my images speak for themselves. Information on the people who have served this country:


Above images by Leah Snyder for Mixed Bag Mag. 

REMEMBRANCE DAY: Aboriginal Veterans Ceremony at Confederation Park Ottawa

Aboriginal Veterans Remembrance Day Ceremony

11 November 2014
9:00 am
At the National Aboriginal Veterans Monument
Confederation Park, Ottawa
Map here 

From the Aboriginal Veterans Facebook Group page

“Aboriginal Veterans from the local area hold a small Remembrance Ceremony at the National Aboriginal Veterans Monument located in Confederation Park. The Ceremony will start at about 9:00 a.m. There is a chance to smudge before the ceremony, our Women do some drumming and singing before we start. The Ceremony is very informal and everyone in attendance has the opportunity to participate. Anyone can approach the Monument to lay an offering, gift, wreath, silent prayer or whatever feels appropriate. It does not last too long and there is time to grab a coffee/beverage before the National Ceremony starts at 11:00″

Everyone welcome!

Above Images by Leah Snyder for Mixed Bag Mag. 

FREE HUGS & LANGUAGE LESSONS: Savannah Simon teaches us to #SpeakMikmaq

I am not going to tie this up with many words because a few lines will get the message across better than a post full of paragraphs or a lesson in history. What Savannah Simon shared at the Michaëlle Jean Foundation’s ”Power of the Arts Forum” says it all.

Her grandmother had her language beaten out of her in residential school. She found a way back to her mother tongue when she fell in love with Savannah’s grandfather. He re-taught his love the language she had lost.

In residential school her grandmother went 6 years without being hugged. That is why Savannah gives away free hugs, so no one feels the isolation that comes from not being lovingly embraced by another.

Savannah’s other passion is to teach people her language.
#SpeakMikmaq “L’nuisi, it’s that easy.”

Support Indigenous languages and learning. You can find out more information on Savannah on twitter @MsNativeWarrior and on her youtube channel.

Find out more about the Michaëlle Jean Foundation on the website and witness the #PowerofTheArts | #PouvoirDesArts weekend on twitter @Power_OfTheArts.

FYI – If you are interested in learning more about Canada’s complex history with First Peoples join writers Waubgeshig Rice (Anishinaabe), Suzanne Keeptwo (Métis & Irish) along with John Ralston Saul to discuss John’s book “The Comeback” tonight Monday, November 10 at 7 pm Southminster United Church, Ottawa.

More info on the Writers Festival website as well as on Facebook and twitter @WritersFest or #OIWF.

Above images by Leah Snyder for Mixed Bag Mag. 

IN MEMORY OF A FALLEN SOLDIER AT THE WAR MONUMENT IN OTTAWA TODAY

Soldier standing on guard in front of monument for World War One

A soldier lost his life today while watching over the “Tomb of the Unknown Soldier” at the War Monument, Ottawa. Our thoughts are with the family impacted by the loss of someone they love as well as with the country of Canada. May our leaders act with discretion and wisdom. May they look at the systems that lead to the radicalization of people and take actions that work towards peace rather than promote militarization.

Offering of tobacco wrapped in red cloth beside poppy on Remembrance Day wreath

 

CLOSING THIS WEEKEND: The Sahmat Collective – Art & Activism in India since 1989 at The Art Gallery of Mississauga

The Sahmat Collective is another great show at the AGM!

I recently had the chance to get in to the AGM to see this incredible show. The Art Gallery of Mississauga isn’t exactly small and it isn’t exactly large but it seems to be the optimal amount of space and it’s always beautifully utilized. The corridor that takes you into the main gallery feels like an intimate welcome that primes you for what lies ahead. There is also a cave-like alcove that works perfectly for video installations. Every time I see an exhibit here I am impressed!


Above images of gallery space courtesy Art Gallery of Mississauga.

The AGM is a gallery that is doing a tremendous job making their institution relevant to the broader community of Mississauga – one of the most culturally diverse in Canada. Their current exhibit The Sahmat Collective: Art & Activism in India since 1989 uses up almost every available surface in the gallery to create a time capsule of India at a moment in her history when culture clashes were reaching a boiling point.

“Since 1989, the influential Delhi based Sahmat Collective has offered a platform for artists, writers, poets, musicians, actors, and activists to create and present works of art that promote artistic freedom and celebrate secular, egalitarian values. The collective formed in the weeks after playwright, actor,and activist Safdar Hashmi was fatally attacked by political thugs while performing a street play. In the more than twenty years since, Sahmat has drawn on India’s secular heritage and an expansive group of collaborators to produce a series of projects that engage in important political and social debates through a mix of high art and street culture.” Read more…

I walked through the show with a friend who had grown up in Gujarat. As a Muslim she had memories of the religious conflicts. The exhibit timeline reached back to touch her early childhood. The Sahmat Collective was the result of a reaction to what was taking place around her, her family and others at this time.


Ways of Resisting
from Smart Museum of Art on Vimeo.

In urban settings where much of the population comes from abroad arts institutions can become midwives for the emergence of memories that provide a link to the motherland left behind. Galleries can give the members of their community an emotionally deep experience by participating with memory, not as nostalgia, but rather as place to locate dialogue that can impact social change here in Canada.

As part of the programming for The Sahmat Collective show the AGM did just that. “Thinking Globally, Acting Locally” was a panel discussion on “Art, Activism and Artist Collectives” that included Canadian artist duo Condé + Beveridge activists / artists whose careers stretch back even father than 1989. The panel posed the question:

“What is the role of the artist collective and what is the relationship between art and activism from both a global and local perspective?”

Galleries should also be looking at the spiritual topography that New Canadians layer onto the land as a way to be relevant to more diverse audiences. “Stories of our Landscape | Conversations after Sahmatwas an event that brought people out to ride along in the “Architecture Bus Tour” for “an introduction to the migration of various religious architectural traditions to the Mississauga cityscape.”

The exhibit curated by Jessica Moss and Ram Rahman and presented by University of Chicago’s Smart Museum of Art was

“animated by the urgent belief that art can propel change and that culture can reach across boundaries. Sahmat has offered a platform for an expansive group of artists and collaborators to present powerful works of art that defend freedom of expression and battle intolerance within India’s often divisive political landscape. Based out of Delhi, the Sahmat Collective uses a combination of high art and street art to resist forces that threaten the pluralist and democratic spirit of creative expression in India. In conjunction with this exhibition, the Art Gallery of Mississauga presents programming that interprets exhibition themes within the Canadian context to critically examine the role of the artist collective, the relationship between art and activism and the ways in which art has the capacity to make change.” Read more…

In plurality their is unity. With unity comes strength.

The Sahmat Collective: Art & Activism in India since 1989 closes this weekend October 19.
More info on AGM’s website as well as on Facebook and twitter @AGMengage.

To explore The Sahmat Collective further visit Vimeo for a selection of videos that give an informative background of their rich practice.

All above images by Leah Snyder for Mixed Bag Mag unless otherwise noted.

 

WHOLE LOT OF H’ART: A New Show of H’Art Ottawa Artists Opens at Ottawa Art Gallery

A whole lot of H’Art at Ottawa’s OAG.

Meeting with the Thursday Group of H’Art of Ottawa right before heading into the holiday weekend was a great idea. If anyone knows a thing or two about being thankful and present in a moment of appreciation it’s these women. Open arms welcoming me and lots of parting hugs as I said my goodbyes is what I got from the women who are part of one of the Ottawa Art Gallery’s current exhibits – Open Spaces.

It’s been a busy year for H’Art. Along with the show at OAG some other members are part of the Breaking Barriers show at the Diefenbunker. H’Art was also the inaugural show (Turning the Page) at the new Gallery 101 space and H’Art artist Irene Beck exhibited at SAW Gallery.

In Open Spaces each artist of H’Art’s Thursday group got a chance to dive into the online archives of the Firestone Collection for their inspiration. OAG is now the custodian of the collection that was begun by O.J. and Isobel Firestone, an Ottawa family that valued Canadian artists. They began collecting in the 1950s and their collection expanded to 1,600 works of art. The artists in the collection include names like Emily Carr, Paul-Émile Borduas, and Rita Letendre – names that show the diversity of background and style of artists working during the 20th Century in Canada. Rotating selections from the collection are always on view at Ottawa’s City Hall Art Gallery (the current home of the OAG Annex) and at OAG’s Firestone Gallery (where this exhibit is being held) but this show engages with the collection in a unique way. Each artist was asked to pull from the collection work that they would combine in a grouping with their own.

3 women dressed up at art opening

Curator Stephanie Nadeau (Curator of Public, Educational and Community Program at OAG) had already spent time volunteering with the women and had a strong rapport with the artists prior to the production of the show. Her special connection with the artists (Malinda Caron, Anna Coulombe, Jenny Francis, Carol Gregory, Christine Hammond, Jessie McComb, Debbie Ratcliffe, Alexa Vanveen, and Mandy Wellman) was evident the moment she stepped into the H’Art studio at the Bronson Studio last Thursday. It had only been a week since the opening but they expressed how much they were already missing Stephanie and her positive presence in their art practices.

Young woman holding a colourful painting of abstract feathers

Signature saying Jessie McComb

Under Stephanie’s guidance the women explored the digital archives to find works that spoke to them. Sometimes the searches were straightforward and other times more serendipitous. For Jessie McComb, who loves the ways ducks form V patterns as they fly, a random photo from a Google image search became part of her grouping that also includes works by Jacques de Tonnancour, A.J. Casson and AY Jackson. In a vitrine Jessie partnered Florence Wyle’s small plaster and iron casts Totem with her collection of rubber ducks. For her birds are the most beautiful thing and on Thursday she showed me a stunning new work of a circle of feathers looping back into each other.


Signature that says Jenny Marie Francis

An older work by Jenny Francis (The Smiling Pig) includes her signature motif of repetitive lines. The same lines are echoed in one piece she chose for her grouping – Norval Morriseau’s Bear-Fish. Jenny is a quiet spirit but her work is complicated and layered. Worlds inside worlds – you could spend hours exploring her visual vocabulary.


Signature that says Debbie Ratcliffe

Debbie Ratcliffe (aka “The Dragon Lady”) likes to construct elaborate narratives in her paintings that are informed by the novels she reads.  I love Debbie’s technique of grounding the images that build her story on top of an inky background. The way she renders her colourful compositions to involve her storytelling articulates her outgoing personality. What I found interesting about the choices she made was that for how detailed her own work is are she decided to pair her pianting with simple compositions – two paintings of landscapes (Alan Collier’s Near Squamish, B.C as well as H’Art artist Malinda Caron’s Mexico) and two paintings of homes (Alan Collier’s On the Spit, Homer, Alaska and Bay St. Lawrence, Cape Breton, Nova Scotia). For Debbie the image of a home is symbolic of life.

Collection of paintings on gallery wall

Signature that says Malinda

Malinda Caron selected an AY Jackson drawing of an iceberg because it made her recall a beautiful memory she had of seeing icebergs on a trip she took. It’s lovely piece that I have to say I much prefer over Jackson’s sketch! Malinda was really touched by her experience working with Stephanie, who she says is like a big sister. Along with working with her “big sister Steph” Malinda appreciates that each week she can create alongside her best friend of almost 15 years, Alexa Vanveen.

Signature that says Alexa

Alexa Vanveen’s way of engaging with the collection was to include a sound component. Some of the other ensembles include audio of the women sharing background about their work but here, in front of Alexa’s choices, she encourages us to have a seat and pause for awhile. Beatles tunes pump through the headphones while viewing Philip Surrey’s Listening to Music and three of Alexa’s own pieces – The Great Blueberry Pie, Strawberry Cheesecake with Lemon Squares and Music is My Life!

Relax for while and enjoy the space she has created for us to sit with the work.

Collection of paintings on gallery wall
Image of woman holding a colourful painting of butterflies

Signature that says Carol Gregory

Carol Gregory rediscovered her love of architecture and passion for buildings. As a child she was an avid reader on ancient architecture. Her choices from the Firestone Collection were works of small buildings against expansive horizons but in the works she produced after engaging with the collection she reflects the contemporary reality of how Canada has shifted from a rural population to an urbanized one. Her buildings are bigger and in Happy Day in Old Montreal the horizon is completely erased from view.

Signature that says Anna

Anna Coulombe is another H’Art collective artist who is interested in both landscapes and cityscapes. Her paintings are vibrant. She works with a gorgeous palette we don’t often see used to depict the landscape of Canada. I applaud Anna’s breaking with tradition and seeing the world through rainbow-coloured glasses! You can understand her selection of Marian Scott’s Quebec Fields from 1932 – kindred spirits connecting to each other through lines, form and most obviously colour!


Signature that says Mandy Wellman

Mandy Wellman asks us “Imagine that the sunset came close to you?” On the gallery wall beside her striking drawing of a section of the sun’s rays the question is written and posed to us. The work that she showed me at the studio was a collection of drawings on paper that incorporated great use of lines so it is of no surprise that she selected two Marian Scott works (Untitled, 1968 and Untitled, 1969) to partner with her own.

Signature that says Christine Hammond

The biggest hugger of the bunch is Christine Hammond and much like Debbie, she is a storyteller as much as she is a painter. Her paintings are filled with an array of animals going about their business. Illustrative in nature, she paints what she loves most! “I had a lion fetish as a kid and still do!”

One of the curatorial decisions Stephanie made with the assistance of the group was to have the signature of each artist cut in vinyl and placed on the wall. Another way that delineates each woman’s grouping is a band of colour at the base of the wall. Each artist decided on the colour that would represent them. A decision was also made to include audio of the women’s voices speaking to us about their practice, their passions, and their memories. The group process resulted in these meaningful details that allowed for each artist to mark the space in their own individual way resulting in nine distinct vignettes of nine wonderful women.

Before we left the studio that day the group presented Stephanie with a painting they knew she admired because it reminded her of organ pipes (Stephanie’s dad is in the organ business!). “Stephanie you are someone we trust more than anyone and you are always welcome here” Christine shared from her heart then the rest of the group chimed in with their praise for a woman who has become near and dear to them.

And along with their presentation to Stephanie came numerous farewell embraces. Through them and their process as artists we can learn a lot about warmth of the human spirit. Their openness and the generousity in the space they provide is both their asset in life and the gift they give to us.

Thank you Jessie, Jenny, Debbie, Malinda, Alexa, Carol, Anna, Mandy and Christine for a great morning!

Ladies – I will be back!

Open Spaces continues at the OAG until Jan 4, 2015.

Find out more about H’Art on their website as well as Facebook and twitter @HartStudioOtt.

Writing that says "Imagine if the sunset came close to you"

THE ART OF WAR (AND PEACE): Curator Magda Gonzalez-Mora at Fort York Toronto for Nuit Blanche 2014

Past history and present tense invoked with installations at Fort York, Toronto. 

Today we know of Fort York as the (barely visible) small patch of green space that buffers the expansive condo development that now grinds against the north and south sides of the Gardiner and barricades us from a view of the sky.

In 1793 the plan for a garrison was put into place by John Graves Simcoe. At the time, Niagara was the capital of the province but Simcoe felt that Toronto was a more suitable place for a naval base that would protect the area from the possibility of an American attack. Soon after, it was decided to move the base again – to Kingston – but a community had already developed around the area and by 1800 there was a residence built for the lieutenant-governor on the site.

In the spring of 1813 the Fort was attacked by the Americans. Both the Indigenous nations of the Mississaugas and the Ojibwa assisted Canadian and British forces to keep the Americans at bay but in the years the followed Fort York was continually attacked and occupied by American Forces. Eventually, due to the victory of the British in the War of 1812, Fort York became a more stabilized community that grew to become the settlement that was renamed Toronto in 1934, from the Kanienke’haka (Mohawk) word Tkaronto meaning “the place in the water where trees are standing.”

Two centuries of peace have passed but the site still remains to commemorate the battles and lives lost.

It has also become a great place to showcase dramatic and large scale art and performance.

Luminato does Fort York.

In 2012, as part of the commemoration of the 200 years since the war of 1812, Luminato staged a massive art install at the Fort called “The Encampment.”

Marking the bicentennial of the War of 1812, The Encampment is both a luminous large-scale art installation and a kind of metaphoric archaeological dig—one that unearths not physical artefacts but long-buried shards and strands of human experience. Conceived as a “temporal village,” the installation comprises 200 A-frame tents pitched on the grounds of Fort York, which fell to U.S. forces during the war. Each tent contains an installation by one of 200 artistic collaborators, selected via an open call for contributors. Each creates a visual representation of an aspect of the war’s civilian history, gleaned from research into real-life stories of family, love, loss, survival, patriotism, collaboration and betrayal. Visible at a distance from several downtown locations, the massive assemblage of tents presents a wondrously glowing sculptural landscape. Explored at close quarters and through social activations, it offers poignant insights into the lives of ordinary people swept up in the epic drama of history.” More info…

Kaha:wi Dance Theatre participates in remembering and honouring the lost lives.

In 2013 The City of Toronto commissioned Kaha:wi Dance Theatre to create a site-specific performance for Fort York that would also travel to Woodland Cultural Centre and Old Fort Erie.

The Honouring pays homage to First Nations warriors of the War of 1812, featuring Onkwehonwe families who sacrificed to protect Haudenosaunee sovereignty, culture and land.” More info..

Now in 2014, Nuit Blanche has put curator Magda Gonzalez-Mora (Before the Day Break Zone) in charge of creating a (safe) space that reflects on socio-politics, security, pluralism, and of course war.

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BODY OF WAR, 2010 by Isabel Rocamora (Edinburgh, UK)
Video Installation

“Body of War reflects on how man becomes a soldier through the relentless repetition of acts of violence. What happens to the psyche as it learns to transgress social principles and integrates the willingness to kill? Set in the geography of the Normandy Landings and punctuated by testimonies of retired and serving soldiers, a mis-en-scene of visceral hand-to-hand combat is gradually deconstructed. The viewer is invited to engage in the relationship between human intimacy and the brutality of war choreography.  

Body of War is as much an ode to the human inside the solider as a question of military structures.” More info…

Image from www.scotiabanknuitblanche.ca.

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CHIC POINT by Sharif Waked (Nazareth, Palestine / Israel)
Video Installation

Chic Point ponders, imagines, and interrogates “fashion for Israeli Checkpoints.”

Male models expose body parts – lower backs, chests, abdomens – peek through holes, materials and standard clothes are transformed into pieces that follow normative fashion standards while calling them into question. Chic Point bares the loaded politics of the gaze as it documents the thousands of moments in which Palestinians are forced to undress in the face of interrogation, as they attempt to move through the intricate and constantly expanding network of Israeli checkpoints.” More info…

Image from www.scotiabanknuitblanche.ca.

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ASCENDANT LINE, 2009 by Wilfredo Prieto (Havana, Cuba)
Installation

“The work is an attempt to explore world orders that defy geo-political definition. A red carpet-flag allows the audience to experience the glamour of walking down the catwalk, while unexpectedly being confronted with different political ideas regarding the fall of a totalitarian system.” More info…

Image from www.scotiabanknuitblanche.ca.

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MELTING POINT, 2014 by LeuWebb Projects (Toronto), Jeff Lee (Toronto), & Omar Khan (Toronto)
Light Installation

“Located on the original shore of Lake Ontario, Fort York was built for defense. Over time, the Fort has stood its ground against enemy advances, expressways and condos as the lake’s edge has pushed further away. Situated in this context of protection and resistance is Melting Point, a sound and light based installation. Melting Point stocks a pair of cannons with an artillery of glowing good feelings, in the form of sparkling tributaries of light pouring from the mouths of the old weapons. Accompanied by a chorus of rolling waves and trilling harps, the work lays a defense agsinst the swirling market forces beyond, countering hard with soft and dark with light and creating a safe space for Art.” More info…

Image from www.scotiabanknuitblanche.ca.

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Also on the Fort York site for the Before the Day Break zone is work by one of my favourite Toronto artists, Bruno Billio, whose piece Familia (seen above) was definitely my top choice for my Nuit Blanche 2013 experience.

FAMILIA 2013 

“Mismatched chairs are gathered from households for re-creation of the moment of a family function. Initiated by the audience, the movement of these objects creates the sounds of a family shuffling their chairs into position at the table.

The mirrored floor captures the physical reflections of the audience and the chairs, imbued with personal nostalgia, thus becoming the medium that retains and reflects private experience and memory.” More info…

BRIGHT BUNDLE 2014

“Bright Bundle is a light sculpture ablaze with pulsating light and sound representing the past and present of growth, prosperity, culture and the future. Set in the centre of Fort York, this 1000 metre ribbon of LED lights will glow and pulsate in a golden-white colour seen from a distance and beckon audiences from surrounding pathways towards it to bath in the glow of  its pulsating  lights and sound.” More info…

Wishing everyone a safe (and dry) night!

NOTE: Ascendant Line & Melting Point will continue to be on display until October 13.

Before Day Break contemplates a sensitive artistic practice. Evoking the complexity of life itself, artists from diverse regions will offer singular perspectives in an attempt to cover different angles of reality. Through these practices they enable the audience to turn the ordinary into extraordinary artistic memory. Like the pixels in a photograph, human relationships, religion, socio-political and cultural behaviour are among the themes used to present a deeper message that speaks to the universality of the human experience. Motivated to challenge and surprise the viewer’s expectations, this vibrant environment will invite reflection on contemporary history, while juxtaposing it to Canada’s quest for inclusion and plurality. All of this leads to satisfaction of the eye and the intellect.Before Day Break defends and trusts the restorative power of art.” More info…

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 All images above by Leah Snyder for Mixed Bag Mag unless otherwise noted. 

WEEKEND FILM FESTS: The Toronto Palestinian Film Festival & Ottawa’s One World Film Festival

One World Film Festival opens at the Library & Archives this weekend in Ottawa. 

This weekend whether you are in the Capital of Ontario or the Capital of Canada, both cities are hosting independent film festivals with programming that offers critique to current issues, like Oil and Occupation as well as Occupation because of Oil.

In Ottawa the One World Film Festival is in it’s 25th year. It runs from Thursday September 25th to Saturday, September 27th.

THURSDAY: Above All Else @ 6:30 pm

(Includes Panel Discussion with filmmakers John Fiege and Anita Grabowski and Ben Powless of Ecology Ottawa after screening)

“an intimate portrait of a group of landowners and activists in East Texas who tried to stop construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, a $7 billion dollar project slated to carry tar sands oil from Canada to refineries on the Texas Gulf Coast. They risk financial ruin, personal safety, and the security of their families as they attempt to protect their land and defend their rights. The film is both an exploration of the human spirit and a window into how social change happens in America.” More info…

FRIDAY: Virunga @ 6:30 pm (Includes Panel Discussion after the screening)

“Africa’s oldest national park, Virunga is a UNESCO world heritage site, and the last natural habitat for the endangered mountain gorilla. None of that will stop the business interests and rebel insurgencies lurking at the park’s doorstep. Orlando von Einsiedel pairs gorgeous natural scenes from Virunga with riveting footage of the Congolese crisis, raising an ardent call for conservation as a vital human enterprise. Along the way, he spotlights the incredibly dangerous work that is often required to safeguard the environment.” More info…

SATURDAY: Watchers of the Sky @ 6:00 pm & On The Side of the Road @ 8:45 pm

WATCHERS OF THE SKY interweaves four stories of remarkable courage, compassion, and determination, while setting out to uncover the forgotten life of Raphael Lemkin – the man who created the word “genocide,” and believed the law could protect the world from mass atrocities. Inspired by Samantha Power’s Pulitzer Prize-winning book, A Problem From Hell, WATCHERS OF THE SKY takes you on a provocative journey from Nuremberg to The Hague, from Bosnia to Darfur, from criminality to justice, and from apathy to action.” More info…

&

“Former West Bank settler Lia Tarachansky looks at Israelis’ collective amnesia of the fateful events of 1948 when the state of Israel was born and most of the Palestinians became refugees. She follows the transformation of Israeli veterans trying uncover their denial of the war that changed the region forever. Tarachansky then turns the camera on herself and travels back to her settlement where that historical erasure gave birth to a new generation, blind and isolated from its surroundings. Attempting to shed a light on the country’s biggest taboo, she is met with outrage and violence.” More info…

Full schedule on One World Film Festival’s website.

All screenings take place at the Library & Archives, Library and Archives Canada, 395 Wellington Street, Ottawa. View map.

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The Toronto Palestinian Film Festival opens this Saturday in Toronto. 

The Toronto Palestinian Film Festival (TPFF) runs from Saturday, September 27th to Friday, October 3rd (so in theory, you could attend both!)

Sunday includes a screening of Omar, one of my favourite movies of 2013. Along with dramas and shorts by Palestinian filmmakers, the festival also includes films about Palestine from the perspective of non-Palestinians. One example is Village Under the Forest.

“The Village Under the Forest explores the hidden remains of the destroyed Palestinian village of Lubya, which lies under South Africa Forest. During the 1948 Nabka, more than 500 Palestinian villages were destroyed. The Jewish National Fund raised money from around the world under the guise of ‘greening the desert’ and built forests and parks named after different countries on the remains of these villages in an attempt to erase their dark history. Writer/narrator Heidi Grunebaum revisits South Africa Forest, the forest she helped finance with the pennies she collected as a child twenty year ago. Using the forest and the ruins of Lubya as representative of a much wider process, this compelling film explores central themes of the Nakba – forced exile, erasure of memory, creating ‘facts on the ground’, and the Palestinian Right of Return.” More info…

“Making its debut at TIFF 2013, Giraffada is a light-hearted drama inspired by a true story. Ziad, a ten-year-old boy from the West Bank, spends all his free time at the Qalqilya zoo where his father Yacine (Saleh Bakri) works as the zoo’s veterinarian. In particular, Ziad has a special bond with the zoo’s two giraffes who he helps care for. Yacine, recently widowed, is determined to preserve the zoo as a haven for animals and for the local children who play there, temporarily escaping the hardships under occupation. One night, after an air strike on the city, one of Ziad’s beloved giraffes dies. The surviving giraffe stops eating due to the loss of her mate. Yacine is determined to save her by bringing in a new giraffe but the only zoo that can help him is in Tel Aviv. Yacine and Ziad are committed to doing whatever it takes to save their giraffe, even if it means breaking the law. Giraffada, which stars Mohammad Bakri (In Attendance), is a unique portrayal of childhood under occupation.”

Last week at Beit Zatoun TPFF hosted a talk on New Directions in Indigenous Cinema with Jesse Wente (Director of Film Programmes & curator of TIFF’s 2012 program First Peoples Cinema: 1500 Nations, One Tradition) and Rasha Salti (TIFF Programmer for African and Middle Eastern Cinema). Rasha discussed the historical and contemporary context of Palestinian cinema. There is a lot to be learned! The documentary Cinema Palestine offers more insight.

“Cinema Palestine is a poetic documentary which explores the life and work of multiple generations of Palestinian filmmakers and media artists. Based on in-depth interviews with a wide range of Palestinian artists living in the Middle East, as well as North American and Europe, the film documents the emergence of a Palestinian narrative through film, the relevance of film to the Palestinian national struggle and the relationship between art, personal experience and politics in one of the most contested landscapes in the world. The film features interviews with numerous filmmakers screened at TPFF including: Annemarie Jacir, Rashid Masharawi, Mohammad Bakri, Najwa Najjar, Hany Abu-Asad, Nasri Hajjaj and Mai Masri. A post-Screening Panel featuring Tim Schwab, Mohammad Bakri and Mais Darwazah will follow the film, with our guests further exploring the role of Palestinian cinema in the emergence of the Palestinian narrative.”

Screenings for the TPFF take place at TIFF and the AGO’s Jackman Hall. For full schedule details click here.

Also find TPFF info on Facebook and Twitter.

 

TORONTO: Prefix’s Urban Field Speakers Series Welcomes Theaster Gates

Theaster Gates moderated by Pamela Edmonds of Third Space Art Projects

Whenever I bring up the “Urban Field Series” with my Toronto artist, designer and curator friends everyone remembers a talk they went to that was phenomenal. This annual series brings to Toronto cultural provocateurs from around the world to discuss how culture grafts its expressions onto the urban space.

This Thursday Prefix welcomes Theaster Gates to Toronto.

graphics of black and white dots and lines“[Theaster Gates] the award-winning artist and director of the Arts and Public Life initiative, University of Chicago, speaks about his extraordinary community projects that critically engage with the public, including Dorchester Projects, a cluster of abandoned buildings on Chicago’s South Side that has been transformed into a vibrant cultural locus. Moderated by Pamela Edmonds, independent curator. Presented by Prefix and Third Space Art Projects.”

Prefix Institute of Contemporary Art
401 Richmond Street West, Suite 124
Toronto, M5V 3A8
Doors Open at 7 pm. Tickets can be purchased at the door.
$8 Prefix Photo subscribers, students & seniors
$12 Regular

Come early as seating is not guaranteed.

More info on Prefix’s Facebook Page.

View the 2013 Urban Field Speakers Series here.