WHAT BEAUTY!: Alex Janvier retrospective opens to a full house at the National Gallery of Canada Ottawa

Denesuline and Saulteaux artist Alex Janvier’s paintings depict vibrant worlds.

I believe we are all given moments in life where if we pause to be still and present we will know that we have witnessed something truly extraordinary. In the expansive space of the Great Hall of the National Gallery of Canada last night, those of us that were there had the opportunity to feel the burden of history momentarily lifted by the presence of someone who has dedicated his body, mind and soul to beauty and to the upholding of his culture.

The crowd that came out was as expansive as the space. NGC Director Marc Mayer said that he had never seen the place so full for any previous opening. The turnout illustrated how well respected this internationally known artist is and affirmed the place that Indigenous artists hold in the consciousness of the Canadian public. 

At 81 years of age, Alex Janvier is a living legend. His paintings are vibrant expressions of dark emotions transformed via vivid memories of his culture that stayed located inside him despite being sent away to residential school. He spoke of his memories of women doing quill work and beading and the “special Friday from 2 to 4” where at school the children were given a few hours to paint. “It was the only time I could express what was down deep within and go back to the creator I believe in…go back to the inside of the little boy…where I wasn’t scared.” He went on to say that in his paintings “you will see what I talked about [the experience of residential school] but also the liberation from it.”

He shared these words on the same day as the US celebrate the arrival of the pilgrims on Plymouth Rock. On thanksgiving eve, in the twilight of the night fall, the backdrop of the American Embassy and Canada’s Parliament Hill was lit up and seen through the glass enclosure of the Great Hall. Ministers and MPs came out to express their admiration. An honouring song was sung. Dances performed. The word reconciliation uttered on more than one occasion.

Has Canada arrived at a new place in time? Has something changed? Perhaps reconciliation is less about a future moment to arrive at and more about a process to begin at.

Last night what we witnessed was the spiritual tenacity that comes from thousands of years of culture stretching back farther than the concept of ‘the West.’ Alex has spent his life time tapping into that “source” as he calls it. What he gave to us all was a gift, pointing to an imagined future in these troubled times. “I believe that this moment is meant for all of us to be here.”

If we accepted his gift, we experienced grace – one moment in a lifetime that has the possibility to change us all.

The exhibit runs through until April 17, 2017. More info on the Alex Janvier exhibit here.

Join curator Greg Hill in conversation with Alex Janvier Saturday, November 25 at 2 pm at the National Gallery of Canada. More info on the Facebook Event Page. Admission is FREE for all.

Images by Leah Snyder for Mixed Bag Mag.

CLOSING THIS WEEK: Temporal (Re)Imaginings showcases Indigenous artists at the Canada Council Ottawa

Curator Alexandra Nahwegahbow presents an thematically strong and visually stunning show at the Âjagemô Art Space.

Consider the concepts of Decolonizing and Indigenizing. One feels heavy with past burdens, forward movement decelerated by arguments with ignorance. The other is charged with the quantum lightness of dreams. The time traveller moves forward swiftly and at the speed of light arrives back into the present with a renewed vision and the tools to construct an imagined future. To Indigenize is to banish colonization to a peripheral edge, advancing over the primitive mess to get on with the business of building improved systems that dramatically alter the landscape.

Moving around within time and the power this strategy provides for transformation is what foregrounds Temporal (Re)Imaginings, the current exhibit at the Âjagemô, Canada Council’s art space on Elgin Street in Ottawa. Curator Alexandra Kahsenni:io Nahwegahbow writes that “in Indigenous traditions, storytellers and artists frequently challenge and disrupt Western perceptions of time as a linear, progressive unfolding of events. Rather, our stories and histories exist in places where time is round, open, malleable, and can fold and fluctuate.”

The exhibit begins with Carl Beam’s impactful Burying the Ruler and sets the intention for letting go of a colonial concept of time. This exhibit also presents an imagined future. While Canada is considering what ‘reconciliation’ with the past will look like as a cultural product, many of the works in this show feel unencumbered by history

They float within the space. Clouds (Hannah Claus) hovers on a sky blue wall.

They speak of time travel. Navigating by our Grandmothers (Rosalie Favell) is set in a scenery of stars.

They alter landscapes. In Here on Future Earth Joi T. Arcand “presents snapshots of Saskatchewan towns, cities and First Nation reserves in an alternate futuristic reality where Cree is the dominant language.”

They traverse the in between space of visions finding powerful antidotes to bring back from the other side. Meryl McMaster’s Victoria “explores the artist’s bi-cultural heritage (Indigenous/European) by engaging in an extraordinary liminal reality. Rather than viewing her identity as two opposing cultures in historical conflict, she fearlessly transforms it into a site of synergistic strength.”

At a time when centres of culture tend to slot alternate narratives in with reductive simplification, as an emerging curator, Alexandra offers elegant complexity. Beyond the concepts and cosmologies embedded in the selected work the choice of the pulsating palette – hot oranges and azurite blues – plays off the predominately white space to stimulate the eye, even energize the body.

Temporal (Re)Imaginings is both potent and curative, a compelling case for a future that is (re)imagined as it is Indigenized.

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Temporal (Re)Imaginings closes this weekend on Saturday, April 30. Canada Council’s Âjagemô art space is on the main floor of 150 Elgin Street. Hours of operation 7 am – 9 pm.

Temporal (Re)Imaginings also includes work by:

Barry AceGoota AshoonaLance Belanger, Alex Janvier , Roy Kakegamic, Mary LongmanMarianne NicolsonCaroline MonnetFrançoise Oklaga and Jessie Oonark

Below images from top to bottom:
Weesahkay Jack and the Great Flood (Roy Kakegamic 2005) & clouds (Hannah Claus 2008)
Detail of clouds (Hannah Claus 2008) image by Georges Khayat, provided courtesy of artist
Navigating by our Grandmothers (Rosalie Favell 2000) image courtesy of artist
Other Worlds (Alex Janvier 1984), Here on Future Earth (Joi T. Arcand 2010) & Alice from the series Modern Tipi (Caroline Monnet 2008)
Here on Future Earth by Joi T. Arcand (2010)
Victoria (Meryl McMaster 2013) image courtesy of artist 

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Alexandra Kahsenni:io Nahwegahbow is Anishinaabe and Kanien’keha:ka, and a member of Whitefish River First Nation with roots in Kahnawake. She grew up just outside of Ottawa and is currently pursuing her PhD in Cultural Mediations in the Institute of Comparative Studies in Literature, Art and Culture at Carleton University. She has a strong interest in stories, oral history and Indigenous art and material culture, and believes that creativity, art and processes of imagining and art-making have the ability to change the world.

Image of Alexandra by Rosalie Favell

Read more about Alexandra on Urban Native Magazine.

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