CANADA, MY HOW YOU’VE CHANGED: Shine A Light at the National Gallery of Canada illuminates landscapes dramatically transformed

Lawrence Paul Yuxweluptun Red Man Watching White Man Trying to Fix Hole in the Sky, 1990 (© NGC)

“Shine A Light, Cast A Shadow”

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.


Isabelle Hayeur, Death in Absentia II, 2011 (© NGC)

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.


David Hartt, Awards Room at the Johnson Publishing Company Headquarters, Chicago, Illinois, 2011 (© NGC)

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.

Geoffrey Farmer, Leaves of Grass, 2012, Courtesy of the artist, Catriona Jeffries Gallery, Vancouver and Casey Kaplan, New York (© NGC)

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.

An Te Liu, Aphros, 2013 (© An Te Liu. Photo: Dustin Yu)

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.

large abstract drawing of large round shapes in a dark background

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.

COUNTER-MAPPING THE CITY TREATY: Taking Indigeneity to the Streets

What’s in a name.

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
the clown
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

and finds
the way
to finance
this project

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…

Counter-mapping Canada. 

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. 

Toronto, Ontario

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.

In Canada, oral histories are now considered an important part of counter-mapping and testimonies of the historical use of that land by Indigenous populations becomes a way of providing evidence at land claims. (Read more about this in Maps and MemesRedrawing Culture, Place, and Identity in Indigenous Communities)

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:

Piitaapocikewaatikakocin

Kintanishinaabeekimin
Nintanishinaabekwakiinaan
Kiminopiitookaakona awa…
Nintashiikewininaak
Aanti wenci nihsitawinaman?

Toronto (Place where the logs flow)

We all live on Native Territory
Our Anishinaabe Land
Welcome to our Community
How do your recognize it?


Above images of Ogimaa Mikana Project from www.ogimaamikana.tumblr.com.

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.

BOLD As Love includes:
Rosina Kazi
Jamaias DaCosta
Elwood Jimmy
Cherish Blood
Cris Derksen
&
Melody McKiver

Read more about BOLD As Love in Now Magazine.

EDGEWALKER REMIX by Sarah Yankoo

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
Of sudden
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

FLASHBACK

To those treaties smouldering and collecting our dust

Flash forward

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

Flashback

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.

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. 

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.

 

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.

OTTAWA LOVE: New Opportunities with The Governor General’s Rideau Hall Foundation, CUAG & Michaëlle Jean’s The Power of the Arts

Diverse group of people standing in half circleRideau Hall Foundation Activators at Rideau Hall, Ottawa. 

In a word this past week has been tremendous! Last fall, on a hunch, I decided to visit Ottawa again after two great visits during the summer for Sakàhan at the National Gallery of Canada. I thought I would stay for just a month. Fast forward a year later and I have decided to make Ottawa my (more) permanent home (with regular visits back to my community in Toronto). The decision to stay has turned out to be a good one!

Now on Board at CUAG, Ottawa!

A week ago it was officially announced that I will be joining the Advisory Board for the Carleton University Art Gallery (CUAG). When I walked into CUAG for the first time last year to visit Rebecca Belmore’s What is Said and What is Done (literally minutes before it wrapped) I knew I loved what CUAG was up to! Since my arrival in Ottawa they have consistently hosted incredible shows with more amazing ones lined up for the fall season.

Older white man standing in front of podium

Activating Rideau Hall. 

This past weekend I was one of 40 people selected across Canada to be an
“activator” and take part in an incubator for the Governor General His Excellency the Right Honourable David Johnston’s legacy project Rideau Hall Foundation (Let’s Build Rideau Hall Foundation). As part of the branding team it was our mission to start to envision the key messages and look of the future RHF as well as how to get the word out to potential audiences. It was intense, exhausting and absolutely exhilarating because at the end of it all I realized how truly radical a space I was in. The leaders and co-creators I worked with are committed to building a New Canada that seeks to reconcile historical narratives that have been about exclusion and invisibility in order to grow as a country committed to deep diversity.

Presenting on Culture.

Yesterday I got word that I have been selected to present at the former Governor General Michaëlle Jean’s Power of the Arts Forum. I will be speaking on “THE CURATOR AS A 21ST CENTURY AGENT OF CHANGE: Assessing the role the institutional curator can play in facilitating deep cultural transformation in Canada.”

logo for Ottawa Art Gallery (OAG)

Also a big thank you to Ottawa Art Gallery for inviting me this past August to moderate the “Art as Resistance” Panel as part of the People’s Social Forum Ottawa. Another great experience.

And it doesn’t end there! A few more wonderful initiatives are in the works. Canada’s Capital City is full of Change Agents and Cultural Provocateurs. I have been fortunate to join such a wonderful community of talent!

I <3 #Ottawa!

Teepee on grass in front of river and view of Parliament BuildingsImage by Leah Snyder for Mixed Bag Mag. Taken during Asinabka Film & Media Festival 2014.

 

TORONTO THIS WEEKEND: “Cycle of a Sari” by Nisha Ahuja at Annex Theatre

torso of young woman dancing with hands in pose and wearing sari

“A cosmic combination of storytelling, dance, aerial silks, song, myth, sound, and shadow play.”

torso of young woman dancing with hands in pose and wearing sari“Partitioned from land and love in Sindh, Rani travelled to present day India, and eventually to Turtle Island (North America), also Partitioned Indigenous land. After her passing, Rani’s ashes are taken from her granddaughter, Asha, who calls Rani into her dreams for answers on how to move forward after this interrupted ritual. In the cosmos with grandmothers from other places and times, Rani roots into ancestral wisdom and her life during the Partition and Independence of South Asia all the while longing for her love, Farah.”

Written & Performed by nisha ahuja
Director/Dramaturge: Yvette Nolan
Choreography & Performed by Kumari Giles
Set, Costume & Sound Design: Melissa Moore
Lighting Design: Michelle Ramsay
Production Manager: Shawn Henry
Stage Manager: cassy walker

ANNEX THEATRE
730 Bathurst St, Toronto, ON
September 5, 6 and 7
7pm
$20/PWYC

 

To reserve tickets contact: cycleofasari@gmail.com
Also, connect on Cycle of a Sari Facebook Page.

More about the playwright nisha ahuja on her website.

Young East Asian woman sitting in hanging fabric and holding out an orange peel
Young East Asian woman lying on floor wrapped in a sari with oranges and orange peels around her
Two East Asian women, one is hanging in fabric suspended from the ceiling, the other lying on the floor
Two young East Asian woman hanging from fabric suspended from ceiling
Two young East Asian woman, one stretches her arm to the other
Two young East Asian woman, one hanging from fabric suspended from ceiling the other backlit behind a sari suspended
Two young East Asian woman, one hanging from fabric suspended from ceiling the other backlit behind a sari suspendedTop image by Leah Snyder for Mixed Bag Mag. Images of Cycle of a Sari by Leah Snyder for Cycle of a Sari.

WHEN ART DEALS WITH THE DISTASTEFUL: Kara Walker at the Domino Sugar Factory

Creative Time presents “A Subtlety” in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

I make a scattered dash to get to the Kara Walker exhibit in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Hot day, with an intense late-spring / almost-summer sun blasting me and the pavement I am pounding. I get lost then located. I turn the corner to see the longest lineup I have seen for art in sometime.

Kara Walker. A big sign makes it clear this is an event!

“At the behest of Creative Time Kara E. Walker has confected:

A Subtlety

or the Marvelous Sugar Baby
an Homage to the unpaid and overworked Artisans who have refined our Sweet tastes from the cane fields to the Kitchens of the New World on the Occasion of the demolition of the Domino Sugar Refining Plant”

 

Once inside the Domino Sugar compound there is a long march into the factory where another blast of heat hits you. This time it’s combined with a sweet smell.

The immediate feeling is of being overwhelmed. The scene is fantastic! Honey coloured light dappling a cement floor textured by the wear and tear of once busy workers. More texture on the rusted out walls that offer a palette of cobalt blues and deep muscovado browns. Beyond the crowds, at the far end of the factory, this gorgeous, towering, powder-white statue rises up – intense with her omnipresent stare.

But then your eyes adjust to the dim warehouse light and your nose notices that the once inviting smell has turned into a toxic sweetness. The scent becomes more rank as you move closer to the sugar sphinx. It mixes with dust and hot human sweat. It doesn’t smell good and the scene that at first seemed stunning loses its charm as you notice you are surrounded by statues of small children, barefooted and barely clothed, standing so they reach slightly above the level of your heart. They each hold a gathering basket. Although they are fixed in their location they seem to multiply and move because as groups of sightseers wander off another child emerges through the dusty light.

It is these children that become the most haunting part of this installation. Constructed from resin and covered in molasses, their bodies leak onto the concrete floor leaving a puddle of black gummy moisture that traps your feet. The dark slick reflects back the faces of the meandering masses that approach the bodies like they are curios.

They are fascinating. Their technical production makes them close to life-like despite the fact that their heads loom too large on their spindly frames. Some even seem to smile but you can’t be sure if it is the case because their face may have shifted as the molasses melts.



The crowd bends to see them face to face, the crowd comes close to touching, but only the little ones, without socialized inhibition, reach out. As they do their parents snap photos, telling them to hold still and smile.

What becomes even more curious then the sugar statues is how the crowd reacts. Met with the visual reminder of the slave trade people pose with the sugar babies flashing a tourist’s grin.

When confronted with the sweetness of life gone sour what should be our appropriate response?

I wonder why they smile in a scene that, if you pause for a moment to think of the reasons Kara Walker’s sugar mammy and molasses children have been constructed in this space, is distressing. At the edge of the East River, for over 150 years, the Domino Sugar building was used as a processing plant for the imported cane that came to America from the colonies. Blood sugar –  a term used to demonstrate how the sugar trade was bound to the slave trade yet the crowds want to be memorialized with the look of pleasure on their face.

It’s not that the crowds seem unsympathetic to the histories Kara references. Racially mixed (albeit predominately white), I am sure the majority are aware of what they are witnessing.

So how do we commemorate our experiences with art that is meant to be challenging? As we ram head on into the digital (sur)realities of the 21st Century have we stopped to think about our decorum when we bear witness to problematic subject matter? Have we been educated on how to be critical; have we considered how to be respectful?

Historically cameras were restricted in art spaces but now, often, they are allowed. With a population that is snap happy and needing to share they were there what does this mean for the way we now interact with art?

Are we in the actual moment or does the camera mitigate us from needing to be fully present in those times when we are confronted with difficult realities, realities that may even challenge our lifestyle choices?

We are primed from a small age how to interact with a camera. Like the parents instructing their curious kids, we are told to ‘smile’. Should there be times when we ask ourselves, is our documentation appropriate? Could there be a better way for us to use this ubiquitous technology we have access to?

Upon entering the exhibit a sign reads “Please do not touch the artwork but do share pictures on social media” and the hashtag #KaraWalkerDomino supplied.

As I write, the trending content for this tag is Jay-Z, Beyoncé and their baby daughter Blue. They have been spotted on a Father’s Day outing to the Brooklyn location.

Besides Beyoncé (and the occasional off-colour comment alluding to the Sphinx’s sexualized nudity), the tweets are mostly of people expressing how impressed they are by the artist’s work but the opportunity for a more expansive discussion, even if only in 140 characters is missed.

People seem willing to participate in the spectacle but are they willing to participate in active change?

This sweet stuff is serious stuff.

Kara Walker’s work is not just a memorial to a past travesty. Everyone’s sweet tooth is still sucking bodies into modern slavery and bonded labour. The syrup that drips from the statues of the children is like a living organism that marks the space in real time. The legacy of the sugar trade is in our present moment.  When the Domino Sugar Factory is finally demolished, clearing way for condos, what will have changed?

Social media exposes where we are at culturally. The evidence left behind by hashtags demonstrates that there is much work to be done around how best to digest what we should find distasteful.

Inside our pockets are powerful tools. Technology has given us the means to not only discuss our reactions beyond our immediate circle but also archive them for a future population of new users. We each have the capacity to participate in building extensive and transformational legacies around the art that impacts us.

When the molasses evaporates and powdery dust swept away what remains?

Hopefully an expansive documentation of how people were deeply moved by the work and a record of thoughtful interactions in 140 characters or less.

#KaraWalkerDomino

#ModernSlavery

 #Sugar

“A Subtlety” is presented by Creative Time.

 “Over the past four decades, Creative Time has commissioned and presented ambitious public art projects with thousands of artists throughout New York City, across the country, around the world—and now even in outer space. Our work is guided by three core values: art matters, artists’ voices are important in shaping society, and public spaces are places for creative and free expression.” Read more on Creative Time

The exhibition continues through until July 6, 2014.

Hours:
Fridays 4–8pm
Saturdays 12–6pm
Sundays 12–6pm.

& FYI – be prepared for a long line up!


black stroke

RECOMMENDED READING ON KARA WALKER AT THE DOMINO SUGAR FACTORY:

EDWIDGE DANTICAT: The Price of Sugar

“Midway through Candide, Voltaire’s famously naive protagonist enters Dutch-controlled 18th-century Suriname, where he encounters “a negro stretched upon the ground, with only one moiety of his clothes, that is, of his blue linen drawers; the poor man had lost his left leg and his right hand.”

“Good God!” exclaims Candide, who proceeds to ask the man why he’s in such terrible shape.

“When we work at the sugar-canes,” the man answers, “and the mill snatches hold of a finger, they cut off the hand; and when we attempt to run away, they cut off the leg; both cases have happened to me. This is the price at which you eat sugar in Europe.”

We still eat sugar at a similar price.

And not just in Europe, but all over the world.”

Read more of Edwidge’s essay…

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SHAILJA PATEL: Unpour

“White sugar has always been for rich people. White sugar has always been guest sugar, company sugar, sugar for public display. Parlor sugar…

…It takes bones to get sugar white. Thousands of pounds of cow bones burned to bone char are used to bleach sugar in processing plants. My Hindu parents, for whom beef was the ultimate taboo, did not know this when they proudly displayed white sugar lumps in their silver sugar bowl…

…Some of us take our sweet dirty. Extracted. Not poured.”

Read more of Shailja Patel’s Unpour…

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JAMILAH KING: The Overwhelming Whiteness of Black Art

“The overwhelming whiteness of viewers isn’t unique to Walker’s exhibit. There are more than 17,500 museums in the United States that are visited by 850 million people annually, the vast majority of whom are white. Art, particularly when it’s commissioned and it’s covered in important publications like the New York Times, is often seen as the exclusive domain of white folks. Museums, dating back to their modern origins in the 18th century, were usually built by wealthy white patrons and enjoyed by middle and upper class European families. In the American context, they served a specific purpose for opening up and exploring a new continent, according to Ford Bell, head of the American Alliance of Museums who was quoted by NPR in 2008. People of color — their customs, their cultures and, in the infamous case of Sara Baartman, their bodies —  were usually the object of those white gazes. But in recent years, as the country’s demographics have shifted in favor of a so-called majority-minority, the art world has made great strides in featuring the work of artists of color. It’s hard to imagine any work by an artist like Walker or Carrie Mae Weems, at the Guggenheim 50 years ago.”

Read more of Jamilah King’s article…

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CAIT MUNRO: Kara Walker’s Sugar Sphinx Spawns Offensive Instagram Photos

“…Meant to serve as a commentary on the sugar cane trade, and a cultural critique of slavery and perceptions of black women throughout history, the work is part Sphinx, part racist Mammy stereotype, and is coated in sugar. It features exaggerated features including breasts, a bottom, and a vagina. As Walker told artnet News, “Nudity is a thing, apparently, that people have a problem with; not slavery, or racism, but female bodies, or bottoms.”

And sadly, she is correct. While few appear to have responded to the work with charges of indecency, some visitors have been unable to stop themselves from mocking and sexualizing the work, uploading photos pretending to cup its breasts or tongue its buttocks. This gross behavior has, understandably, struck a nerve with feminists and racial equality activists alike. Yesha Callahan of The Root writes, “History has shown us time and time again how a black woman’s body was (and sometimes still is) objectified. From the days of the slave trade to even having black butts on display in music videos, the black woman’s body seems to easily garner laughs and mockery, even if it’s made out of sugar.”

Read more of Cait Munro’s article…

black stroke

RESOURCES ON MODERN SLAVERY AND HOW TO CREATE CHANGE:

Walk Free

Not For Sale Campaign

Made In The Free World

Do you know your Slavery Footprint?
Find out by taking The Made in the Free World Survey


Images of Kara Walker “A Subtlety” installation by Leah Snyder for Mixed Bag Mag.

ART CONTEST FOR WORLD PRIDE 2014: Solidarity With Canada’s Two-Spirited & LGBTTIQQ Communities

AGO and Michaelle Jean Foundation Art Contest for World Pride 2014

The Art Gallery of Ontario along with the Michaëlle Jean Foundation are looking for your digital art work.

Sometimes the best ideas are last minute! The AGO & FMJF are looking for artists to submit their digital art work to a contest in support of the LGBTTIQQ communities in Canada.

The countdown is on! The submission deadline is this week on Thursday April 25 at the stroke of midnight. The winner takes home $1000 and gets the chance to work with a street artist to mount their work outside of the AGO on the Solidarity Wall.

Young guy standing on garbage bin wearing pride flag and waving to a float

DETAILS FOR THE 4th WALL YOUTH SOLIDARITY PROJECT:

  • You must be between the ages of 14 – 30
  • The subject matter is ” make the invisible experiences of Canada’s Two-Spirit and LGBTI2Q youth visible”
  • Winner gets $1000 grant
  • The selected art work will be part of the World Pride Exhibition at the AGO
  • The public will vote online for the competition winner
  • The winner will be announced on June 22, 2014 at the Youth Solidarity Forum
Click here for Submission Guidelines.
More info on the Youth Solidarity Project Website. Follow along on twitter at #YSP14
Good luck to all the submitting artists!

two guys walking, only see their shows and legs, one guy is wearing rainbow coloured running shoes

Above images of Pride Parade by Leah Snyder for Mixed Bag Mag.