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.

SUBTEXT AND THE CITY: Canada Know Your Brand


View from Museum of Civilization, Hull, Quebec while visiting the Indigenous & Urban Exhibit for Sakahàn.

The True North strong and free where nature is cherished and everyone lives happily ever after (?)

This place country we call Canada is kind of a mixed bag. ‘Multiculturalism’ in theory sounds welcoming but in practice can be problematic and is often accompanied by language that renders people tongue-tied and inarticulate.

So it’s easy to leave the talking to logos, slogans, and flags or monuments commemorating memories that are more complex than snapshot on vacay allows. But if you are willing to listen the city speaks!

Why not take a tour right now? If you click on each of the images below you can find out more about the work that’s in the picture as well as the artists and how each piece deepens the dialogue of the narrative of this nation.

Mixed Bag Mag would like to thank all the Cultural Provocateurs encountered while in the Capital visiting the National Gallery’s exhibit Sakahàn and offsite partner events. When it came to food for thought you each provided an all-you-can-eat buffet and I appreciate the exchange of ideas.

Harold Adler & Christopher Wong of Asinabka Film Festival

Jason Braeg – Artist / Curator and one of the founding members of the Aboriginal Curatorial Collective.

Chris Henderson – Authour of Aboriginal Power

Greg Hill – Audain Curator & Head of the Department of Indigenous Art at the National Gallery

Alexandra Nahwegahbow – Artist / Researcher @allgussied_up

Jeff Thomas – Artist / Curator and contributing Sakahàn artist

Ola Wlusek – Curator at Ottawa Art Gallery

Also it was a pleasure to meet one of the international Sakahàn artists’ Nicholas Galanin. Nicholas’ beautiful masks can be seen inside the exhibit but outside, for the next week or so, you can check out Nicholas carving out another commission at the back of the gallery right by Roxy Paine’s One Hundred Foot Line. Suggested donation for watching the performance of what I refer to as ‘artist chipping away’ – a double shot Americano.

Thanks as well to Amy from the UK for being the guinea pig upon which I practiced my tour guide abilities. And to my other bunk mate Candace – Welcome to Canada! May it be a wonderful new home for you!

MIXED BAG MAG recommends Niigaan’s Treaty Workshops:

Niigaan workshops use “blankets to represent the lands of what is now Canada, and the distinct cultures and nations which live on those lands to this day. Participants represent the First Peoples; when they step onto the blanket, they are taken back in time to the arrival of Europeans…the exercise goes through the history of treaty-making, colonization and resistance that resulted in the nation we today call Canada.”

“Anishinaabe prophecy tells of a time when two nations will join to make a mighty nation. These two nations are the original people of Turtle Island (today known as North America) and the settlers of this land. However, it is warned that this mighty peaceful nation will only be built if both nations choose the right path. We all must understand the history behind the current political and social relationship before we can begin the process of decolonization. The legal history includes the treaties of peace and friendship, the British North America Acts, Section 35 of the Canadian constitution, the Indian Act, and the legal duty to consult First Nations; all these agreements and legal documents influence our ability to go forward together on the right path.  Our history is littered with forgotten events, either deliberately overlooked, or rationalized away somehow.” (cited from Niigaan’s website)

Metal sculpture of native man in traditional attire kneeling with quills. Canada's Parliament Buildings in the background. Metal sculpture of two men and a woman in armed forces attire with words reconcilation underneath them and antique church spires behind them.
Facade of old stone building, tree branches and fence of boards with phrase Idle No More written on it.
Metal sculpture of native men in traditional attire with eagle spanning wings above their heads, wolf at their feet and building with Canada written on it in the background.






Above images by Leah Snyder for Mixed Bag Mag.