More important and inspiring programming by the NAC
This winter, as part of the National Arts Centre’s programming for Art and Reconciliation, I Lost My Talk premiered. This incredible and poignant performance included the beautiful choreography of Kaha:wi Dance Theatre‘s Santee Smith and stunning visual design by Montreal’s Normal. Tomorrow evening I Lost My Talk will be part of three other orchestral works premiering as part of Life Reflected. The National Art Centre Orchestra’s Director Alexander Shelley “brought together four remarkable Canadian composers to collaborate with Donna Feore to create an immersive symphonic experience celebrating youth, promise and courage, revealed in the compelling and diverse portraits of four women.”
Tomorrow’s performance will include:
ALICE MUNRO – Dear Life with music composed by Zosha Di Castri “Dear Life” by Alice Munro, is a reflection on memory, childhood and the formative stages of life. The NAC Orchestra’s Dear Life was composed by Zosha Di Castri.”
AMANDA TODD – My Name is Amanda Todd with music composed by Jocelyn Morlock My Name is Amanda Todd tells the story of a vibrant 15-year-old who, after suffering for years from cyber abuse, spoke out against harassment and bullying on YouTube. Music composed for the NAC Orchestra by Jocelyn Morlock.
ROBERTA BONDAR – Bondarsphere with music composed by Nicole Lizée Dr. Roberta Bondar’s remarkable expertise as an astronaut, physician, scientific researcher, and photographer have been interpreted in Bondarsphere by Nicole Lizée for the NAC Orchestra through soundtrack and video.
RITA JOE – I Lost My Talk with music composed by John Estacio “I Lost My Talk” – by Mi’kmaw elder and poet Rita Joe, C.M. expresses her experience at Residential School. The NAC Orchestra’s I Lost My Talk was composed by John Estacio.
Club SAW hosts Black History Month Doc & Talk in partnership with One World Film Festival.
WHAT: Screening of Invisible City WHERE: Club SAW at 67 Nicholas Street, Ottawa WHEN: Thursday, February 25 at 7 pm COST: Suggested donation is $5 for the general public & $4 for One World Arts members. **Seating is limited**
One World Arts and the One World Film Festival are marking Black History Month with a screening of the award-winning documentary INVISIBLE CITY and a post-film talk with Saide Sayah (Program Manager for the Affordable Housing Unit at the City of Ottawa) and Chelby Daigle (Community activist and long-term resident of social housing).
The evening will also feature a new Heritage Minute about Canadian civil rights icon Viola Desmond, a Nova Scotian woman who challenged racial segregation and is often referred to as “Canada’s Rosa Parks,” courtesy of Historica Canada.
INVISIBLE CITY follows the lives of two black teens from Toronto’s Regent Park neighbourhood, Kendell and Mikey, as they make the transition from adolescence to adulthood. Their mothers and mentors root for them to succeed as the teens grapple with issues of race, crime and notions of manhood and the social pressures of an environment that places them at risk.
Turning his camera on the often ignored inner city, Oscar-nominated director Hubert Davis sensitively depicts the disconnection of urban poverty and race from the mainstream. INVISIBLE CITY was the winner the Best Canadian Feature award at the 2009 Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival.
Click here to join, like and share this event on Facebook!
Also, this week INTERGALACTIC NOISE:: A partnership between Black Future Month & the Art Gallery Mississauga
WHAT: Panel Discussion and Reception WHERE: Art Gallery of Mississauga WHEN: Friday, February 26 at 7 – 10 pm
“Intergalactic Noise invites a re-engagement with the concept of Black History Month, as artists, designers, and multi-media creatives explore the concept of Afrofuturism. In using the date of 3016, Black Future Month offers an entry point to imagine utopic Black realities beyond the assigned month. Rather than accepting a naïve concept of a future full of advanced technology, the featured artists instead contemplate the possibilities of an advanced humanity.
TRC Commissioner Marie Wilson moderates a panel of cultural provocateurs speaking on Art & Reconciliation.
“It’s time for the rest of Canada to do the heavy lifting” ~ I Lost My Talk composer John Estacio
On Thursday, January 14 the National Arts Centre hosted a panel discussion on ART & RECONCILIATION prior to the opening night of I Lost My Talk, a performance inspired by the poetry of Mi’kmaq elder and poet Rita Joe. The response to this event was tremendous. Hundreds of people swelled up the stairs from the lobby where the 100 Years of Loss exhibit on the impact of Residential Schools is installed until the end of this week. The event also drew political support. In attendance was the Prime Minister’s wife Sophie Grégoire-Trudeau, the Governor General’s wife Sharon Johnston, National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations Perry Bellegarde and former Prime Minister The Right Honourable Joe Clark. I Lost My Talk was a commission by Clark’s family for his 75th birthday. A moving and lovely gift that we all got a chance to participate in and benefit from.
Canadian writer Joseph Boyden speaks on his commission to write the libretto for the Royal Winnipeg Ballet’s Going Home Star.
It’s encouraging to see a National cultural institution take such a leadership role in implementing the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action. It’s also poignantly symbolic to have a National cultural institution recognize, in the present moment, a fact that history has tried to obscure. Both the panel and the performance of I Lost My Talk opened with the National Arts Centre acknowledging that “we are on UNCEDED Algonquin territory.”
On the panel, along with Canadian writer Joseph Boyden and John Estacio, the composer for the musical score of I Lost My Talk, was Rachel Maza, “acclaimed Australian theatre director of Jack Charles V The Crown.” I had the opportunity to attend this incredible play that delved into the impact of assimilation policies on Indigenous people in Australia. Over the course of 75 minutes Jack charmed us with his beautiful way of presenting his biography – a life full of identity confusion and much loss but also an amazing amount of grace due to Jack’s own incredible resilience. I left with many mixed emotions. Find out more about the play…
Jack Charles receives a standing ovation at the closing of his performance of Jack Charles V The Crown at the NAC.
Going Home Star opens this week in Ottawa at the National Arts Centre.
“Going Home Star – Truth and Reconciliation is the brilliant result of a star-studded collaboration between the Royal Winnipeg Ballet, award-winning Canadian author Joseph Boyden, acclaimed choreographer Mark Godden, and renowned Canadian composer Christos Hatzis. Going Home Star was ten years in the making, first envisioned by late Cree elder/activist Mary Richard and RWB Artistic Director André Lewis. Searing and sensitive, this powerfully emotional classical ballet is the deeply resonant love story of Annie and Gordon, a pair of contemporary Aboriginal young people coming to terms with a souldestroying past. Hatzis’s multi-layered score incorporates music by Inuk throat singer Tanya Tagaq (winner of the 2014 Polaris Music Prize), Steve Wood, and the Northern Cree Singers.” Read more…
The creative team and performers of Going Home Star speak at the NAC about the ballet during the Truth and Reconciliation Commission gathering in May/June 2015
Also, this weekend at the NAC is Innu author, composer and singer Florent Vollant performing on Saturday, January 30.
“born in Labrador in 1959 and grew up on a reserve named Maliotenam, east of Sept-Îles. He began his musical career in the middle of the 80s and helped to create the Festival Innu Nikamu, which, since its founding, has brought together many musicians and singers from various Amerindian nations.”read more…
Saturday night, due the national and local popularity of A Tribe Called Red, was sold out for the NAC Presents turns 5!event.The NAC basically turned their main foyer into a night club. The effect was brilliant. The NAC definitely knows how to throw a sexy #Decolonize party.
Mehdi Cayenne was also amazing bringing a francophone presence to the event. The importance of the evening was not lost on him and he got the crowd engaged in celebrating the diversity that Canada represents – but a diversity that needs to broaden to recognize First Nations, Inuit and Métis as significant contributors of culture.
Dancer James Jones charmed the crowd during ATCR’s performance combining breakdancing moves with hoop dancing. It was clear from the crowd’s reaction that contemporary Indigenous culture is celebrated and the impact is positive.
If you missed Saturday’s event you can still take advantage of the events the rest of the week. And if you are not in the Ottawa area the Art & Reconciliation Panel Discussion moderated by Truth and Reconciliation Commissioner Marie Wilson will be livestreamed at this link here.
TUESDAY – SATURDAY (January 12 – 16 at various times): Jack Charles V The Crown “Aboriginal. Actor. Addict. Residential School Survivor. Cat Burglar. Homosexual. Jack Charles is an Australian tribal Elder and a living legend. This highly entertaining and autobiographical presentation, which includes a three-piece band, runs the gamut of a life lived to its utmost, spanning Charles’ career as an actor/musician, a lifetime of political activism, and a terrifying descent into heroin addiction and petty crime. His experience as a stolen child echoes the plight of Canada’s own Indigenous people – and his heart-warming presence, generous spirit and unswerving optimism make his journey one of resilience and reconnection. Jack Charles is a theatrical marvel.”
WEDNESDAY (January 13 from 5:30 – 6:30 pm): Rita Joe National Song Project “Students from schools in Nova Scotia and Quebec will perform music they created based on Rita Joe’s I Lost My Talk poem.”
Mi’kmaq youth from ABMHS High School, Eskasoni, Cape Breton, N.S.
Algonquin youth from Kitigan Zibi Kikinamadinan School, Maniwaki, QC
Frances Joe, the daughter of poet Rita Joe
Moe Clark, Host and Multi Media Métis Artist
Alexander Shelley, Music Director of the NAC Orchestra
Annie Smith St-Georges, Algonquin Elder
Jessica Bolduc, 4R’s Youth Movement
THURSDAY (January 14 at 6:30 pm) : Art & Reconciliation FREE & LIVESTREAM! A timely panel discussion on art in the context of reconciliation moderated by Dr. Wilson, Commissioner, Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, and featuring panelists Rachael Maza, acclaimed Australian theatre director of Jack Charles V The Crown, Joseph Boyden, author of the award-winning novels Three Day Road and The Orenda, and composer John Estacio. The panel discussion will be introduced by the Right Honourable Joe Clark. The event will be live streamed at nac-cna.ca/live. Guests to attend the event include Their Excellencies David Johnston the Governor General of Canada and his wife Sharon Johnston, Mrs. Sophie Grégoire-Trudeau, and National Chief Perry Bellegarde of the Assembly of First Nations.
THURSDAY – FRIDAY (January 14 – 15, 8 pm & 7 pm): I Lost My Talk “World premiere of I Lost My Talk, composed by John Estacio and performed in Southam Hall by the NAC Orchestra under the direction of NAC Music Director Alexander Shelley. This immersive, multidisciplinary work – based on the poem by the late Mi’kmaw elder and poet Rita Joe – was commissioned for the NAC Orchestra to commemorate the 75th birthday of The Right Hon. Joe Clark by his family, and features an extraordinary film produced by Barbara Willis Sweete.”
Legacy of Hope exhibit looks the impact of the Residential Schools opens tomorrow at the National Arts Centre
And finally from now until the end of the month the exhibit 100 YEARS OF LOSS: The Residential School System in Canada will be available for viewing from 2 pm onwards each day.
“This bilingual exhibition, created by The Legacy of Hope Foundation, raises awareness and understanding of the history and legacies of the Residential School System in Canada. Through archival photographs and documents, first-person testimonies, and evocative works of art, the exhibition encourages us to learn about this difficult history, to recognize its legacies in our country today, and to contribute our own acts of reconciliation.
Mixed Bag Mag joins Artists & Curators from Canada at the Venice Biennale.
Mixed Bag Mag has been invited by The Power Plant Contemporary Art Gallery in Toronto to participate in the Creative Time Summit 2015 at the Venice Biennale. The Creative Time Summit’s theme this year is “Curriculum” and “throughout the Summit, conversations on curriculum will examine the social, infrastructural, administrative, and private conditions under which knowledge is produced and intertwined with social contracts.”
Mixed Bag Mag’s coverage will focus on how art has the potential to change the way we engage with social and political issues. With the appointment of Nigerian curator Okwui Enwezor as the head curator, this year’s Biennale has taken on a more political tone. He is the first African to be in this position. He has pushed the discussion around immigration and economy using the vehicle of art. I will be exploring his curatorial approach to engaging with the intersections of art, politics and commerce.
10 Artists from Canada will also be attending along with The Power Plant Delegation.
• Adrian Blackwell (Ontario)
• Deana Bowen (Ontario)
• Carole Condé and Karl Beveridge (Ontario)
• Jen Delos Reyes (Manitoba)
• Elle Flanders and Tamira Sawatzky, of Public Studio (Ontario)
• Justin Langlois (British Colombia)
• Duane Linklater (Ontario)
• Nadia Myre (Quebec)
Thank you to The Power Plant for this opportunity. Also thank you to each of organizations that made it possible for this trip to happen! Thanks to Galerie SAW Gallery in Ottawa for their support.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Walk for Reconciliation Ottawa, Rideau Hall Ceremony for Survivors and Buffy Sainte-Marie.
There is always that one little girl, at whatever march or demonstration I am attending, that grabs my attention. I begin to follow along to her skips and steps in an effort to come close to the lightness she contains in her little being. She is at once a promise but also a ghost of all the other little spirits who came before her, with similar promise, but who didn’t make it.
It’s been a few weeks now since the Truth and Reconciliation Commission had their final series of events here in Ottawa closing the process of investigating and documenting the Residential School experienceon generations of Indigenous children in Canada. Much has been written and said about the TRC. As I attended the events each day I came to the realization that what I witnessing was going to best be expressed without the use of words so here I deliver a message through the images of women. Throughout the four days I ran into many friends and made some new ones. One thing was clear, that despite the heaviness of what we were participating in, there was a lightness contained inside each of the women who you see here and that lightness will continue on as a promise for a different type of tomorrow.
Below are women, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous, who are putting their energies into ensuring this country will be accountable to the children lost and to the children yet to arrive.
Canada is known for its tradition of depicting resplendent and majestic landscapes but the inspirational legacy passed down by artists like those in the Group of Seven aren’t echoed by the contemporary artists featured in the National Gallery of Canada’s show of new acquisitions.
The vignette of Lawren Harris’ North Shore, Lake Superior, as seen from the Gallery’s water court and framed by rose granite walls, shares with us a vision of the Great White North as a pristine place. Now the more North you go the more you experience the impact of global warming. The Inuit populations located in Northern Canada are the canaries in the coal mine of climate change. The situation is dire and artists in Canada have responded.
I entered the Shine A Light exhibit at a different point each time and each time I was confronted by works that overwhelmed me with a sense of dread. Artists used to celebrate this land. Now artists like Edward Burtynsky, David McMillan and Isabelle Hayeur scatter themselves across the globe to photograph how human populations are manipulating, extracting and polluting their environments often beyond the point of no return.
Edward’s work is by far the most familiar. His command of composition is always breathtaking, even exhilarating because of the scale of the photographs. They suck you in. They are cinematic making you feel a part of the terrain. He places you at ground zero, he’s like the Weegee of the environmental crime scene and you can’t look away.
David McMillan and Isabelle Hayeur are lesser known but have equally challenging content. David photographs Chernobyl and Isabelle the dead waters of America. The discombobulating viewpoint of Isabelle’s photographs drown you. David’s work brings back the ghosts of the cold war, the stuff of children’s nightmares and threats of nuclear winters. Glasnost saved us from a global moment of disaster but nuclear technology was still devastating for many Russians. His work provides a document of disaster that irradiates how our modern material culture is forever stuck in some plastic purgatory that’s going to be hard to get out of.
The content of David Hartt‘s photography in Stray Light, also about location documentation, is aesthetically more palatable, you could even say seductive. Instead of cold war ghosts you feel a guilty sense of nostalgia for that time before the OPEC crisis, a time when North Americans thought there was no real harm in living large. The video component of Stray Light takes us into the building of the Johnson Publishing Company (JPC) former home of Ebony Magazine. As the video transitions smoothly from room to room, accompanied by the lush music of jazz flutist Nicole Mitchell, because of what I witnessed en route to David’s work I can’t shake off a sense of foreboding.
The African sculptures made of wood and stone seem confined in the plastic fantastic world of JPC. People move in and out of the scenes hedged in by office structures that conflict with the softer movements of their bodies proceeding through the space. Watching the final moments of the iconic Ebony in it’s place of conception is like entering a crypt in a necropolis that lures you with its beauty. It feels like the oxygen is going to be sucked out of the building and eventually the space will become a time capsule shrink wrapped for the archive and searching for its final resting place.
My initial response to Geoffrey Farmer‘s Leaves of Grass was “this is obscene.” After more time spent with the work my response was still “this is obscene.” His process (a team spending countless hours cutting and pasting), the content (17,000+ cut outs from 5 decades of Life Magazine) and the final presentation (100+ feet of archivally problematic paper, grass and glue) illustrate the absurdity by which we hold on to the past. We collect, categorize and create hierarchies of meaning that allow for justifications of all kinds. We trap ourselves in a constructed story from which we can no longer budge. Leaves of Grass is an absolutely breathtaking piece but as stunning as it is, the work is suffocating. There is too much to take in with no place for the eye to rest; a well executed entanglement of wicked questions. Do our strategies for classification make perfect sense? Are they nonsense? How do they really help?
Junk culture. That is what we are left with and this is the legacy that many of the contemporary artists in this show are trying to illuminate.
David Armstrong Six, The Radiologist, 2012 (Courtesy of the artist and Parisian Laundry. Photo: Matthew Koudys)
The shadowside of Readymades
“Combining found objects with a variety of materials – plaster, plywood, steel, rebar – his sculptural explorations merge the raw and the readymade into aesthetically intriguing and ambiguous compositions.” (sited from Shine A Light catalogue)
David Armstrong Six continues in the tradition of the readymade but Duchamp and the Dadaists weren’t working at a time when people had to be concerned about an impending environmental crisis. Bricolage takes on a different meaning when we are at risk of burying ourselves alive in a rubble pile of our own making. Maybe ‘l’art pour l’art’ is no longer enough to redeem the materials.
This is the question that An Te Liu seems to be trying to tease out as he works with casting the materials that accumulate from our post-modern predicament with packaging. Arranged like collection of Brâncușis, the five pieces are beautiful to behold but lack the life force that Brâncuși’s pieces, made of wood and stone, exhale. Rendered in ceramic and metals they give the impression of impotence like the materials they reference, materials that will persist in the environment without the capacity to be generative.
From the room with the David Armstrong Six’s readymades and An Te Liu’s towers you can look out across the Donald R. Sobey Family Gallery and view Luke Parnell’s Phantom Limbs from above. Here yet another graveyard is encountered. The 48 wood carvings laid on the ground are made to represent the homecoming of the ancestors when the Haida Repatriation project succeeded in having ceremonial objects and human remains returned to Haida Gwaii from private and public collections. Luke gave each carving a different expression. Contained under cases of plexi some look understandably pissed.
The Shine A Light catalogue, arranged alphabetically with each artist’s name, ends with the work of Lawerence Paul Yuxweluptun and a 2 page spread of his painting Red Man Watching White Man Trying to Fix Hole in the Sky (see above). This work hasn’t been publicly viewed for nearly 2 decades. Now seems like the requisite moment to bring it out again to remind us that in those 20 years we haven’t transitioned forward with many solutions. Instead we see a global trend to become more entrenched with ‘pie in the sky’ ways of living. Suffering with the collective trauma of watching our world come to the brink of disaster do we brush off our artists as Chicken Littles? Because the sky is indeed falling, our ozone layer is literally breaking apart into pieces.
On the back wall of the 2nd floor is The Arsenal, a work by Jutai Toonoo. It is a large scale oil stick drawing of T cells. He created the work at a moment when he was trying to understand the pathology of the cancer his mother was stricken with. The helpful T cells fight against viruses, bacteria and diseases.
Our material culture is replicating faster than stage 4 cancer. It metastasizes in places as topographically different as Chernyobyl, Nunavut and India. The micro T cells, as the subject of Jutai’s work, are metamorphosed into a macro landscape that covers a large expanse across the Gallery’s wall. The allied cells shine like a phosphorescence glow in an inky black sea. After the challenging content of Shine A Light his work highlights hope. We are in need of an arsenal of solutions to push back the chaos. Encoded in the DNA of the planet are the cellular memories that can transform a landscape in crisis.
Above images by Leah Snyder for Mixed Bag Mag unless otherwise noted.
Looking at the typography of a city through an Indigenous lens can fracture what we think we know. Chorography is the act of “describing or mapping a region.” The chorography of our cities effectively maps multiculturalism but underneath the Little Italys and Chinatowns original place markers have been trampled under the foot of many a newcomer.
Recent headlines have pointed to Winnipeg as being one of the most racist cities in Canada. For the urban Indigenous population in Winnipeg the city, whose name is derived from the Cree word win-nipi, is marked with anxiety. Marvin Francis was a playwright, author, visual artist and poet from Heart Lake First Nation and his experience of living on the “Urban Rez,” as he referred to Winnipeg, formed itself into a book titled City Treaty: a long Poem.
I was being followed
so I took my usual back alley route
trash can trails
make ’em get their feet dirty
but it was no use
you cannot shake a clown
that mask sees all
we begin the treaty project
we needed money we wrote
on the back maize flake boxes expensive
knows ever since sky ripples
mingles clown city native
write new treaty cost heap big money
the clown surveys post/city/modern/after treaty/after
lawyer = life
finds the reality:
As a teenager, moving off his reserve to the city, Marvin developed a complex relationship with Winnipeg.
“The urban Aboriginal experience is dependent upon the circumstances of the individual, and speaking in general terms is always dangerous, but I think it is a fair statement that, for the average Native who comes from the Rez, the city contains a spectrum that ranges from new possibilities to that social monster, crack.” Read more…
It’s hard to know where you are standing when the original place markers become impossible to find. But they are still there for those who are tenacious enough to search. Sometimes names hint at the histories that lay just below the surface of maps made for our ‘modern’ times.
tkaronto (Kanien’kehake), onitariio (Wyandot)
Where the trees are standing in the water, the beautiful lake
Counter-mapping is a term used to refer to the intentional use of mapping methodology and technology such as GIS, cartography and geomatics to make visible how dominant power systems have used maps as a way to assert control over territories often for the purpose of resource extraction and/or settlement.
Beyond the legal applications counter-mapping combined with visual ways of expressing space are being used by artists as a way of marking places with counter-narratives.
Sarah Yankoo “is Algonquin, Irish, Hungarian, Romanian and Scottish and edge walks between the bush and the city that gathers in Toronto.” While in York University‘s Environmental Studies program she discovered the poetry of Marvin Francis in a class titled Indigenous Literature, Survival and Sovereignty and for her, the earth moved. Her response was to become one of the tenacious ones who seeks to uncover what some have tried to make us forget. Her photographic work is about creating an image bank demonstrating that in urban spaces a counter-mapping movement is taking place – graffiti tagging, arts activism, and even random formations seem to be giving us a message.
In underpasses, subway stairs and skyscrapers Sarah finds markers that signify we may be at the moment before a seismic shift is about to go down. The ‘Urban Rez’, as Indigenous populations explode, can become a place of renewal and a city, like Toronto / Tkaronto is capable of flexing intuitively – as though it remembers. The shape of the map may not be changing, but the rigid borders of colonial mindsets shift to create a dynamic that will forever change the emotional contours of a city.
Top image of Haida artist Corey Bulpitt’s mural. Bottom image Métis symbol replicates on subway stairs. Both by Sarah Yankoo.
Sarah has also found a way to continue the work that Marvin started by “writing her own treaty poems while exploring the piece [City Treaty] as an installation work and political engagement piece.” For the University of British Columbia’s exhibit Claiming Space: Voices of Aboriginal Youth at the Museum of Anthropology she contributed City Treaty Manuscript. (view City Treaty Manuscript image above)
“Claiming Space: Voices of Urban Aboriginal Youth looks at the diverse ways urban Aboriginal youth are asserting their identity and affirming their relationship to both urban spaces and ancestral territories.” Read more…
KIMIWAN ‘ZINE‘s SIXXX edition featured Sarah’s treaty poem push that bush as well as her work titled your X mark (pictured below)
KIMIWAN ‘ZINE is a quarterly publication that showcases words + art from emerging + established Indigenous, First Nations, Métis, and Inuit writers + artists. Kimiwan is independently published by a collective of Indigenous artists, writers, students + community members.
Kimiwan was started by Joi T. Arcand and Mika Lafond in summer of 2012.”
Top image X marks an urban spot. Bottom image peace and moccasins. Both images by Sarah Yankoo.
The Revolution will be Indigenized.
Marvin, who passed away in 2005, wrote of Toronto:
“Winnipeg, with its high Aboriginal population, is one place where you can walk downtown and meet other Aboriginals. Regina is like that, too, but a city like Calgary or Toronto has few Aboriginals visible downtown.”
In Toronto First Nations, Métis or Inuit populations can become invisible, absorbed into the multicultural mix but as the city becomes more inquisitive about Indigenous histories and contemporary realities after the earth moved during Idle No More, the Toronto of Marvin’s recollection is rapidly changing. A growing Indigenous presence comprised of artists, activists and academics is drafting a new city treaty with their work. This isn’t just taking place behind the institutional walls of universities and museums – their work spills out into the streets.
During the summer of 2013 Ryerson professor Hayden King (Anishinaabe from Beausoleil First Nation on Gchimnissing) along with artist and educator Susan Blight (Anishinaabe from Couchiching First Nation) embarked on an intervention under the name Ogimaa Mikana (Leader’s Trail in Anishinaabemewin). In different locations in downtown Toronto street signs and memorial plaques were subtly counter-mapped by placing Indigenous names and text over the ones put in place by the operating Governments of Canada. Spadina was changed to Ishpadinaa and a plaque was covered at Queen’s Park with the words:
With round dances taking place inside shopping malls and pow wows outside on University campuses even the rhythm of the city has changed.
Sarah also uses music as a way to infuse urban streets with Indigenous vibrations. She makes mouth bows out of branches she searches for when out in the bush. Inspired by the music of Buffy Sainte-Marie as well as A Tribe Called Red she also performs and is often remixing the recordings of her mouth bow on her iPad.
This coming Saturday she will performing alongside Skookum Sound System for Native Women in the Arts Catalyst Series hosted with the BOLD As Love Collective at the Musical Gallery, Toronto. Collectives like BOLD As Love, with their spoken word and musical performances, showcase the plurality of Indigenous voices fleshing out a deeper meaning of diversity.
The words of our lost languages have hidden meaning And while business talks a level playing field Native landscapes can contain asphalt back onto our feet As the land itself invents our soundscape (read Sarah’s full treaty poem Edgewalker Remix below)
Counter-mapping and marking alternate meanings into the urban space becomes a therapeutic act. Time to dig down into the bedrock to excavate those solutions.
We all walk these edges uncertain
On border slippery
Between dirt poor
And filthy rich
Between the bush and city
Between sandy hot beach laughter
& heart breaking tears crying in the snow
We point out the edges that cut off our mind
Invisible borders stronger than barbed wire
Cement our paths to our edge walking ways
To lost children
& a Trail of Beers
When all you really want is to do is just go home
Play in a garden where pedals do not bite
Where the fingers fold in prayer
Where the smile heals eyes
Burnt by too much evening
For the young
& The old experienced love that still dares
The smoke is white and the crackle is electric
So pull your thoughts of others from history into today
And we all emerge from
Actual treaty lines
into the native-aboriginal- First Nation- last chance Indian status- cuz you went
trapping that day universe
The words of our lost languages have hidden meaning
And while business talks a level playing field
Native landscapes can contain asphalt back onto our feet
As the land itself invents our soundscape
What words describe agony of kids torn away
Language ILL legal
Of a circle of a people with their hearts in the fire
spirits in the electric smoke
& Minds in the crackle with knowledge for
To those treaties smouldering and collecting our dust
To loop the difference in times zoned
Flash present to a disguise that fools nobody’s god
Flash back again and again over and under and through the flashing
To the territory as large as the land itself
Reach the borders and the sounds that fit the land contours
And while the rivers wash from the inside and the prairie undulates from the Canadian
Shield up one side of the Rockies and down the Mackenzie. Remember there is no
linear in the bush, and the city only thinks it does. so you can finally figure out that the
land is owned only by our children and never by us
Argue/bitch/question/probe/tear apart/challenge/discuss until everyone is sick of it
Then do it again
For you must remember what the people went through
Above images of Sarah Yankoo by Leah Snyder for Mixed Bag Mag.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Sarah is rocking a jacket by Toronto based Dene designer Sage Paul and boots by Métis owned company Manitobah Mukluks. You can support Indigenous designers by signing a petition against DSquared’s #DSquaw collection from Milan Fashion Week at Change.org. The petition asks that Dan and Dean Caten apologize for their actions and as Canadians donate the profits from their collection to an organization that supports the rights of Indigenous women here in Canada. Click here to sign.
Listen to Sage Paul speak on the issue to Metro Morning’s Matt Galloway here.
Growing up with Mennonite family around meant quilts were ever present. Because of this I can appreciate the work and the communal effort that go into these blankets that can fetch thousands of dollars at relief sales, but heir aesthetic, often full of feminine florals and wallflower palettes – not my thing. Then I saw Libs’ work – my kind of quilt! Using computer generated code and bold colour combinations Libs’ quilts are not about having a soft presence. They are loud and assertive.
Breaking with tradition while bending the boundaries of craft, technology and design, her creations are like a post-structural take on textiles. You could succinctly wrap up Jacques Derrida in one of these deconstructed babies.
Alex Colville was never an artist I considered as an interest. The experience of viewing the Art Gallery of Ontario’s current retrospective of his work left me considering otherwise.
Alma Duncan was never an artist I even knew to consider but her painting Young Black Girl (1940) is one of my favourites in the AGO’s collection. I had no knowledge of Alma at the time but I was drawn to the demure painting that used to hang in the round room to the right of the Old Masters Collection along with a Picasso from his Blue Period, and a pulsating Kees van Dongen. The room held a rotation of portraits and this enigmatic and somber piece made me return again and again.
Now the painting hangs at the Ottawa Art Gallery for one more week. It is positioned on the wall that intersects Alma’s bold self-portraits that greet me with a commanding series of stares.
There are many ways to conceptually enter into both the Alma and Alex exhibits but my pathway into understanding their work more deeply is through the relationships that they each present.
ALMA DUNCAN: The relationship one has with oneself.
Alma’s portraits of herself are entirely different than my introduction to her work through her subject of the black girl who sits slightly askew and closed off from the viewer. In each painting Alma positions herself squarely, looking beyond the frame to her audience. It’s as if she is daring those who might question her authority as an artist. She began painting at a time when the art world offered little opportunity for female intervention into male dominated spaces. Even as she paints her young self with braids bound at their ends with red bows (Self-Portrait with Braids, 1940) there is a clear message she sends as she stands affirming her right to participate. She paints herself wearing a pair of trousers instead of a skirt. When I encounter this row of paintings with such a strong female presence my thought is that I am disappointed that it took this long for me to find her.
In the main room, behind one dividing wall, are her renderings of mines and the machinery of industry from her time spent documenting a developing Canada focused on trade and resources; on the other side abstracted sketches of grass and landscapes softened with snow. We can see how far she travelled in her journey to explore her visual language but its when I enter the second room and experience the blood red wall upon which her Woman Series (1965) is hung that I have a longing accompanied by an intense regret that my younger self didn’t experience these at an earlier moment in my own odyssey.
I would have loved to have experienced her boldness in my youth when looking for creative and conceptual heros sheros. The clean cut demarcation between the black and the white is not set in opposition to each other but rather as a compliment from one to the other.
They are magnificent.
As I come closer I sense a movement in the shimmering of the strokes. It reminds me of the shadowy depictions of the Shroud of Turin also known as the Shroud of Christ. But this analogy is not quite right. Rather than a covering used for the dead I realize it reminds me more of a vibrating sonogram where you can detect a pulse, a heart beat, a life. This is why I find them so magnetic because as I walk towards a particulate one that draws me close I see the defining outline of a woman’s torso reflected upon itself emerging from the inky deep. Although she moves from realism in her early work to this period of experimentation with abstraction in the 60s the strength and intensity of that young woman with the braids and red bows is the anchoring attribute we find repeated here.
Alma’s work may visually change, flux and bend but the explorative relationship she has with herself as a female artist is what moves me. It’s why I find myself coming back to this newly discovered piece over and over again not wanting to say good-bye.
ALEX COLVILLE: The relationship one has with their lover and life partner.
When I am at the Alex Colville show its also a female relationship that grounds me into the exhibit. I make a few laps around the rooms, weaving in and out of the crowd, to finally sit down somewhere mid-point and watch a short film. The video is narrated by Alex’s daughter Ann Kitz and in a few short minutes she poignantly shares with us the timeline of her parents lifetime of love – a 70 year excursion that ends the way it began – together. Alex died just weeks after his wife’s passing.
Exploration by going deep instead of wide.
After experiencing World War II in his role as a war artist and documenting the liberation at Bergen-Belsen concentration camp it seemed like his marriage, which took place right before he left for war, became the stabilizing factor upon which he was able to build a career alongside raising a healthy family. The partnership with his wife, Rhoda, also an artist, gave him a solid foundation after experiencing the uprooting tension of conflict.
It was through this relationship Alex was able to arrive at both his signature technique and his recognizable aesthetic. Of the painting Nude and Dummy (1950) seen below he reflects that this was when he accomplished what he called his “first good painting.” From this piece we are able to see what is about to come down the road.
His visual journey doesn’t traverse the same distance as Alma’s trajectories. His way of rendering his compositions remains uniform throughout his career. He doesn’t become driven to aesthetic extremes; his loyalty to his signature style allows a deeper exploration into the psychological subtleties of the human condition. Alex’s work was about looking and then re-looking at a location or a person you know so well to find both the consistencies and the anomalies that open up a contemplative space. He was quoted as saying that “only by living in a little place for a long time can one build up a sort of extensive body of complex knowledge and understanding of what goes on.”
Alex is known for his compositions that convey foreboding messages of something disruptive beyond the horizon but in seeing many of the his works based on Rhoda there is also an undeniably playful spirit that comes through these images of this woman, his wife. We see her at leisure with the figure we can interpret as Alex in the background close enough to be at her call but far enough as to not disturb her relaxation; we see her with her pets and her children and playing the piano while her aging husband sits close by. Over their lifetime Alex portrays her nude and exposed but accessible in her humanness, flaws not banished for the sake of the artist reflecting a perfected muse. She is real and charming, a crisp outline of paint separates her from the background but because we never fully see her face this woman still manages to maintain complexity surrounded by mystery.
Her head is lost inside of a canoe that she portages to another place; she stands with acceptance, a body shaped by age, in front of the old grandfather clock in their home. The image I come to love the most is of Rhoda defiantly naked and flipping the perspective of the world upside down, the cat as a casual witness. I feel it illustrates the adoration Alex had for this woman, at once his muse and the mother of his children. I can sense a chuckle from him and hear laughter from her as she gingerly makes her way down to plant her feet back on the ground. Headstand (1982) becomes the image that I end up visiting again and gain and the one final time to say farewell as the show closes its doors.
Thanks to the AGO & the OAG for providing an opportunity to view the life and work of two important Canadian artists.