#OTTAWA OPENING TODAY: “Outside These Walls – Photographs by Yannick Anton & David Ofori Zapparoli” @ #Carleton #University #Art #Gallery


David Ofori Zapparoli, Backstage at Fashion Show (1989), archival digital photograph, courtesy of the artist.

Tonight, as part of CUAG’s Winter exhibitions Outside These Walls opens to a party including DJ Memetic spinning the tunes!

WHEN: Monday, February 27 @ 5 pm
WHERE: Carleton University Art Gallery, St. Patrick Building, Carleton University, Ottawa

Featured Artists:

As part of the exhibition a conversation with curator Pamela Edmonds and the artists David Ofori Zapparoli and Yannick Anton will be moderated by Kwende Kefentse (aka DJ Memetic) tomorrow evening.

WHEN: Tuesday, February 27 @ 7 pm
WHERE: Carleton University Art Gallery (CUAG), St. Patrick’s Building, Carleton University, Ottawa

More on the Outside These Walls:

“This exhibition brings together photographic works by Toronto-based artists Yannick Anton and David Ofori Zapparoli whose respective imagery share a community-focused and collaborative approach to documenting urban life and its people. Zapparoli has represented the visual history of Canadian cities for over 30 years, the majority of his work is informed by a strong social realist approach. Until 1999, he had focused on the public housing development of Regent Park, putting a human face on the stigmatized and transitional community of which he had been a part of since his teens.Anton’s candid and energetic photographs draw stylistic inspiration from the youthful, street, fashion, music and queer-positive cultures that he captures.  Together both artists’ compelling works present unique and unapologetic insights into diverse landscapes and lives, addressing the systemic barriers that they expose and refute, while re-imagining regimes of the image away from fixed inscriptions of race, gender, class and corporeality.” (more info…)

ALSO OPENING TONIGHT: 

The Other NFB: The National Film Board of Canada’s Still Photography Division, 1941-1971
Curated by Carol Payne and Sandra Dyck

Making Radio Space in 1930s Canada
Curated by Michael Windover and Anne MacLennan

The exhibitions run from February 17 to May 7, 2017.


Yannick Anton, Blap Blap (“Yes Yes Y’all” Series) 2013, digital print. Courtesy of the Artist.

#OTTAWA THIS WEEKEND: Ottawa #Black #Arts Kollective presents “The Stranger Among Us” Vernissage Today 1-3 pm!

OBAK show at Arts Ottawa East!

The Ottawa Black Arts Kollective presents 7 Ottawa-based artists working in various media in the show “The Stranger Among Us.”

WHEN: Vernissage today, Sunday, February 12 from 1-3 pm show runs to March 14
WHERE:  AOE Gallery, Shenkman Arts Centre, 245 Centrum Boulevard, Ottawa, Ontario

Featured Artists:

Below work by artist Ojo Agi from the “Daughters of Diaspora” series.


Images by Leah Snyder for Mixed Bag Mag.

HOW TO BUILD A MUSEUM: Theaster Gates’ Exhibit ends this weekend at the Art Gallery of Ontario Toronto

“An ailing house that grew a healing song”

This expansive thematic show that uses House music as both an allegory and an art form ends this weekend. It’s worth spending time moving back and forth through the rooms to hear, or rather feel, how the soundscape informs works that are deceptively benign but loaded with signifiers of oppression / liberation creating intersections where labour meets love.


Throughout the duration of How to Build a House Museum local Toronto dancers Jasmyn Fyffe, Kosi Eze, Esie Mensah, and Diana Reyes have animated the most cavernous of the rooms to echo the movements of the video installation bringing the vision off the wall.

Today, Saturday, October 29 Toronto talent Esie Mensah will be performing between 2 – 4 pm.

“Chicago-based artist Theaster Gates takes over the fifth floor of the AGO’s Contemporary Tower with an immersive exhibition exploring the potential of the house museum—historically important landmarks that have been transformed into legacy sites. Gates proposes new ways of honouring and remembering Black experience and explores the potential of these spaces through music, dance, video, sculpture and painting.”

For more info on the show click here.


Images by Leah Snyder for Mixed Bag Mag.

“NOT MY HERITAGE”: Conversations on New Identities / Voices in Conservation hosted by Carleton University

Saturday, April 23 Carleton University will convene conversations on conservation

Last year I attended an engaging symposium on heritage conservation put on by Carleton University Students. Last year’s theme was Unsettling Heritage. This year the conversation will be focused on New Identities / Voices in Conservation and will pose the questions:

  • Whose heritage are we conserving?
  • Whose heritage is being unrepresented or underrepresented in the heritage conservation discourse of the 21st century?

“This theme aims to critically address missing identities and voices in the heritage field and/or highlight alternative stories and perspectives in heritage conservation.”

“In recent years, the identification and conservation of cultural heritage resources—the built environment, cultural landscapes, or intangible heritage—by heritage professionals, has needed to expand and broaden its understanding of community histories to address the plurality and the multi-narratives that exist in our communities. Events such as: the release of the Final Report on Residential Schools by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the Occupy movement, the protests for gender equality rights, the push for youth engagement in civic duties (voting), and the global issue of refugees and immigration, have recently highlighted some of these ignored or unknown identities and voices that exist, and which have been underrepresented or unrepresented in the field of heritage conservation.” Read more…

Online registration closes tomorrow at noon. Tickets will also be available at the venue door Mill Street Brewery, 555 Wellington Street, Ottawa.

View Full Schedule Here

WHERE: Mill Street Brewery, 555 Wellington Street
WHEN: Saturday, April 23 from 9:00 am to 4 pm
COST: $15 Students / $45 General Admission (Online Registration) $20 Students / $50 General Admission (At the Door)

THIS WEEK IN OTTAWA & TORONTO: #BlackHistoryMonth ends but the contemporary influence continues

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!

More on Invisible City director Hubert Davis on this BlogTO article.

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.

Exhibiting artists:

  • Sherrae Lyon
  • Quentin VerCetty
  • Danilo McCallum
  • Ekow Nimako

Amanda Parris, host of CBC’s arts & culture programme Exhibitionists moderates a discussion between artists Camille Turner, Ekow Nimako, and Quentin Vercetty.

Join the INTERGALATIC NOISE:: Facebook Event Page for more information

***FREE TRANSPORTATION TO AND FROM THE AGM via BUS! 
BUS PICK-UP LOCATION: GLADSTONE HOTEL (1214 QUEEN ST. W, Toronto) AT 5:30PM.***

upclose shot of black man's hands holding a pink lego mask
Mask by Ekow Nimako. Image by Leah Snyder for Mixed Bag Mag.

 

CITIES, CULTURAL PRODUCTION & AFRO AESTHETICS: Mozambican / Canadian musician SAMITO performs at Ottawa’s National Art Centre


Sea Point and Lion’s Head, Cape Town, South Africa. Image by David Stanley.

The extended cultural influence of urban space in Africa.

My childhood experience of Africa was urban. Inside photo albums wrapped in 70s textiles, I flipped through the photographs of my parent’s honeymoon in South Africa and saw images of cities and ports. 

Gratefully, my adult experience of Africa wasn’t confined between a front and back cover. This time I was riding the waves of the Mediterranean towards an ancient metropolis. I arrived at the opposite end of the continent as my mother and father. From the sea the city of Tangiers stretched out before my eyes. Breathtakingly beautiful, it contained within its borders stories of commerce, trade, and cultural admixture – African, Moorish, Spanish, and French. This Moroccan city was flourishing a thousand years before the cities built by European settlers in Canada. Another trip to Africa would have me arrive by air to Nairobi with its nightclubs, bank machines and matatus. I left travelling overland by bus to the port of Mombasa, on the Swahili coast, where hundreds of years of African, Arab, Portuguese and even Chinese cultural influence made an impact on all my senses; from there I made my way to other cities – Harare, Gaborone and Johannesburg. When I recall Africa I recall urban spaces. The cities I encountered reminded me of the ones back home where people from different cultures come then go about the business of life, all the while creating new cultural expressions.

“February 1998 ceramic tile panel designed by Malian artist Abdoulaye Konaté (b. 1953) and produced by the Viúva Lamego tile factory. Trained at Bamako and Havana, Cuba, Konaté lives and works in Bamako. He was one of the 11 prominent international artists who were commissioned to produce works of art for the Oriente metro station, Lisbon, where this panel is installed.” Image by Bosc Anjou

Samito is an African born artist with the experience of living his life in port cities. From his birthplace of Maputo, Mozambique, then onto Cape Town, South Africa, he now calls the port of Montréal home. I was interested in his reflections on living in places where pluralism, within the urban setting, is the social structure and how that influences one’s artistic practice and culture production.

In our rush to celebrate diversity sometimes we discount how discombobulating the experience can be when you are the minority within the larger cultural context you inhabit. “My 11 years of living in Montreal has pushed me to think about my past identity and new identity, pushing me into a fragile place. As an immigrant you have [to face] a wall of judgement before you are accepted.” Samito goes on to express that as an artist arriving from somewhere else, people superimpose their (mis)conceptions on you as well as on your work. “Because of that I went into a profound reflection regarding who I was and who I became with immigration. I realized I was in a tangled place. Music allowed me to shape some things that reflect my present space. On one side, you want to talk about your culture and everything you have observed in life, including your past, but you still want to communicate to people in this space, now.”

For five years Samito has been working on an album that will be released Spring 2016. “When I started working on my record I went through a lot of questioning, [you realize] that when you are too ‘African’ people don’t like you. It can change you in profound ways. I started censoring myself. How do I want people to see me? This can help shape the narrative but it can make you less effective. It was a really difficult thing for me. It was part of the shaping of my own artistic persona – figuring out who I am in Canada – how I present myself as a Black man from Africa while still having an impact on how people perceive Africa.”

To negotiate, with a certain amount of grace and artistic integrity, between the roles of cultural producer versus cultural ambassador is the existential knot that newcomers have to unravel. You must keep your wits about you as your senses acutely feel the current city that surrounds you, breathing it in even if the air becomes acrid with xenophobia. If you are mindful you can apply an artist’s alchemy to the experience – producing something beautiful and solid from the confusion. With his music, Samito does just that.

During a vacation back home, Samito worked with three women from the Northern region of Mozambique whose articulate sound – Tufo, a traditional dance and music style thought to be of Arab origin – shifted aspects of his music. “It took two or three years to reflect on what I wanted.” The soundtrack of the multicultural Cape Town that he experienced while living there in his twenties is also crafted into his music. He was influenced by Shangaan electro beats. This style of music originated in the townships of South Africa and was produced by the mixing of traditional Shangaan music from Limpopo with 21st Century digital technology. The mixture, as it seems to happen with everything technology touches, stimulated the speed. Traditional Shangaan music was part of Samito’s auditory memories of childhood. The music was imported into the city of Maputo by Mozambican miners who would go to South Africa for employment. In the diversity of the city of Montréal, Samito heard new sounds that were added to his repertoire. The result is what he shares with us now, in his latest single Tiku La Hina.

Samito bestows upon his adopted city his own brand of Afro aesthetics – guiding principles that recognize the continent of Africa and the African Diaspora’s influence on the culture of cities, both historically and in the contemporary context. Samito’s cultural production is his contribution to the urban. This contribution, in it’s own way, will go on to change the rhythm of the city – not just in Montréal, but in all the cities Samito has called home in the past and the ones he will arrive at in the future.

Samito will play this coming Thursday, February 25 at the National Arts Centre on the 4th Stage, part of Black History Month.

Tickets can be purchased here & Trinity Life Rush Student Tickets here.

FOLLOW SAMITO:

twitter @Samitotv

Instagram @Samitotv

Facebook

Google+

www.samito.tv

BLACK LIVES MATTER: For Andrew Loku, Sandra Bland & …

…Jermaine Carpy,  #KindraChapman, #RalkinaJones, #RaynettaTurner, #JoyceCurnell, #EricGarner, #MichaelBrown#TamirRice#TrayvonMartin

I’ve tried to write this post many times. Every time another man or woman is killed by the police and the news comes up on my feed. Another friend, usually a Black friend, sharing, yet again, a sickening story.

I am going to try and write about how it makes me feel as someone who isn’t black but has loved ones who are. I am going to breakdown what happens to my body – the taste of fear that starts to hit the back of my mouth, the hot tingling that runs from my feet up my spine. My mind goes to a place that I can’t explain, it’s primal, and my ability to offer myself some sort of logic ceases. Even inside my own head there here is no passage out. I stop thinking and my body takes over. I panic wondering how the hell I am going to protect my loved ones.

What if they have a moment where they are pushed too far and that tension breaks costing them their life? Will others be around to intervene on their behalf? As we have already seen that often doesn’t even matter.

That’s my body’s reaction. And so what is the reaction of the parents, wives, husbands, and children who find out, that at the hands of someone whose job is to serve and protect, their loved one’s life has been taken? Their bodies must sink into a spot they will never fully recover from. And if they are Black themselves, they have to continue to go out into a world that has proven it’s hostile. There is no way they can reconcile this. Not everything happens for a reason and has a silver lining if you just look hard enough. Things happen because there are systems in place that allow for racism to continue despite the fact that slavery, in North America, has legally ended. Things aren’t in the past because the mechanisms, social structures and economic drivers that positioned slavery as acceptable are still in place.

Andrew Loku. The most heartbreaking thing I read was a friend of Andrew’s who cried out that he survived war in Sudan to be killed by police in Canada.

It’s happening here folks. Close to home.

Do you have someone in your family who is Black? What about your favourite teacher? Or your high school sweetheart? A good friend, your dentist, your therapist, the great neighbours you grew up beside?  If these people matter to you what will you do to protect them?

I brought my body to the Black Lives Matter Toronto Die-in for Eric Garner back in December. And who did I see there? Black people.

For all the talk of how Multicultural our society is and for all the families I see that are multi-racial I wondered where were all the people whose cousins are Black, whose friend or lover or business partner is Black? Where were all the people who don’t have to carry skin colour as a burden? Why aren’t they here to help share lighten that burden for the people they care for?

How does this craziness end? By non-Black bodies saying enough – by standing their embodied with a physical presence in the moment to say I am here committed to this cause. Let those being targeted know that you get it that there is a hatred for Black bodies and that even in saying BLACK BODIES it allows a way for us to distance ourselves. Yes, all lives matter but at this time Black Lives are the ones at risk. So what are you going to do?

Because I want you to help protect my loved ones. I want you to help be the buffer that creates a circle of safety around the people I care about who need to be protected.

I want you to show up to Black LIves Matter events because when everyone shows up, not just those who are targeted, that will be how we change this thing.

This just came through my feed:

“For all you crying about this damn lion while it’s open season on black people but remain silent… I see you.”  ~ Dayna Danger

Don’t be that person.

#BlackLivesMatter Tonight in Ottawa
Friday, July 21 at 8:22 pm
Vigil for Sandra Bland
More info on the Facebook Event Page

Black Lives Matter Ottawa Coalition & Black Lives Matter Toronto Coalition 

And for Eric Garner, Michael Brown Jr, Tanisha Martin, Tamir Rice, Trayvon Martin,

SEWING CIRCLES & SOUNDSUITS: The Art in Embassies initiative connects social nexuses in Ottawa

Marie Watt’s sewing circle and Nick Cave’s SoundSuits provide ways to start discussions around challenging issues. 

As our long winter was on it’s way out and a new spring beginning an interesting initiative began here in Ottawa. Vicki Heyman, wife of US Ambassador to Canada Bruce Heyman, launched Art in Embassies, a project started by John F. Kennedy as way to share the talent of American artists abroad as well as “start cross-cultural dialogue“.

Maria Watt was the American artist chosen to open what has become a series of events focused on the role of art as a catalyst for social change. The timing seemed oddly predestined. Marie, a woman of mixed Settler / Indigenous heritage sat on the stage at the National Gallery of Canada speaking to Greg Hill (the NGC’s Audain Curator of Indigenous Art) about the connecting quality of her work.

“My work draws from my experience as a Scottish German Seneca person in the US growing up in Oregon…[I explore] Indigenous moments in history and European history – those nexuses.”  

This was on the eve of the Roundtable Discussion on the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls that was also taking place in Ottawa that week. On the Friday, as Carleton University was hosting the National Roundtable, the Carleton University Art Gallery (CUAG), in collaboration with Art in Embassies, was holding a roundtable on Indigenizing the Gallery with Marie as the honoured guest participant. If a nexus “is a series of connections linking two more more things” than what was happening at that precise moment in Ottawa, in the social spaces where art, academia and politics converge, was a moment where Indigenous women’s voices were being prioritized.

One of Marie’s well known works is Blanket Stories: Seven Generations, Adawe, and Hearth. The piece was installed during the National Gallery of Canada’s Sakahàn: Indigenous International Art exhibit and true to Marie’s practice it involved sending a call out to participate. A request was made for anyone who wanted to contribute to drop off or mail out a wool or natural fiber blanket to the NGC. The original call out on the Sakàhan website describes how the installation:

“will highlight the rich history of commerce and trade in Ottawa. The word “Ottawa” comes from the Algonquin word adawe, which means “to trade.”

Along with their blankets participants were requested to write a story that illustrated the importance of that blanket to their family. The stories become the currency and their richness is revealed in their ability to criss-cross countries and cultures, span many generations and fuse past with present. With her works involving blankets Marie does what she can to have the stories available for audiences to read (view some of stories from the NGC install here). At her National Gallery talk she related a few of them to us. One story was Peter’s. The blanket he gave to Marie came from a concentration camp. If I remember correctly, it was his wife’s and it was all she had when she was liberated from the camp. Eventually that same blanket would be used to wrap and protect art work purchased by the couple in the life they created together. Marie feels that such a story flies in the face of Hitler’s denigration of art and is a perfect symbol of reclamation – a blanket’s meaning transformed by its new role.

The stories are also ways for people to enter into the intimate space of another. In this complex historical moment where we struggle to understand the meaning of words like reclamation and reconciliation sometimes the way of navigating that complexity is through the simple act of creating a space for people to share moments. This is the strength of the Art in Embassies initiative which has been infused by Vicki’s desire to explore art as social practice precisely because it can build bridges and foster understanding between disparate social circles. As a way of gathering a diverse group together for a common goal, another event that was held as part of Marie’s visit to Ottawa was a sewing circle. It was moving to see people of all backgrounds, ages, and genders stitching together in the Great Hall at the National Gallery. And the artist was present! Marie took the time to speak with people as well as listen to new stories being shared. For Marie, it’s about being affable in her process. As she says, a sewing circle is about “tucking yourself into something as humble and familiar as cloth. It’s a safe space that’s a much more informal space – getting together in a neighbourly way.”


In these informal spaces people can digest what they might otherwise feel challenged to confront. Marie’s work, although not overtly political, is charged by a political climate that does it best to ignore Indigenous rights and a national leader who publicly declared that the issue of #MMIW (Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women) as not “really high on our radar.” As a Seneca woman she uses her art as a way to generously share Indigenous teachings to a non-Indigenous audience.

The next artist speaking as part of the series is Nick Cave. Nick’s work is also about looking at social as well as disciplinary nexuses of art, dance and fashion. Like Marie, he uses the act of sewing and assemblage to move a challenging conversation forward. The intense subject of racial profiling prompted Nick to look at ways we disregard and denigrate. His first “soundsuit” was created by gathering discarded sticks and twigs, the things that surround us during our day that we ignore and allow to become invisible. The final product functioned as both apparel to be worn by a dancer during a performance and sculpture to be inserted into a gallery space. Whether still or animated by performers whose race and class are concealed inside the soundsuits, Nick’s work is meant to break open a space. They are impossible to ignore. As performers climb inside they have a chance to access the feeling of being connected with something seemingly foreign from their everyday but yet some of the materials that Nick utilizes, like Marie’s blankets, are humble ones that are familiar to all.

Again, the timing of this event is important. After months and months of the heaviness of how racial profiling is being executed – literally – by agents of power, we need to widen the discussion around race that has been split open by the murders of black men at the hands of the police. The problematics of race isn’t just an American issue. Here in Canada the erasure of Black bodies in cultural, academic and political institutions has the potential to fester and become a much deeper problem. We need to have the challenging conversations immediately and those conversations have to happen in places like the National Gallery of Canada, an institution where Black contribution to Canadian history and art has been close to absent. No time like the present.

I applaud the audacious spirit that Vicki has brought to the cultural table here in Ottawa and I look forward to participating in more of these types events that create a nexus for change by widening the circle of social influence.

You can follow the conversation at #artconvoAIE. More events will be coming up in 2015!

All images by Leah Snyder for Mixed Bag Mag. 

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.