MEET THE EXPERTS @ THE NGC THIS SATURDAY: The #curators & #conservators of the National Gallery of #Canada #Ottawa offer public tours

The Curators and Conservators who worked on the new Canadian and Indigenous Galleries speak on their work.

This week the new Canadian and Indigenous Galleries has opened. To celebrate the occasion the NGC is offering tours all day Saturday with the experts who make things happen at the Gallery. All tours are free with admission.

SCHEDULE OF TOURS

10 AM KATERINA ATANASSOVA: Senior Curator, Canadian Art

Room A105 (English with Bilingual Q & A)

Join Katerina Atanassova, Senior Curator, Canadian Art, as she talks about the new installation of works by the Group of Seven and Tom Thomson and provides insight into the artists who shaped the Canadian art landscape in the early 20th century.

11 AM CHRISTINE LALONDE: Associate Curator, Indigenous Art

Room A101 (English with Bilingual Q & A)

Meet Christine Lalonde, Associate Curator, Indigenous Art, as she talks about the Gallery’s new installation of Indigenous art and provides insight into the Indigenous cultures who created the works on view.

12 PM JONATHAN SHAUGHNESSY: Associate Curator, Contemporary Art
Room C218 (English with Bilingual Q & A)

Join artists Damian Moppett and Ron Moppett as they discuss their work and exhibition with Jonathan Shaughnessy, Associate Curator, Contemporary Art.


2:30 PM DORIS COUTURE-RIGERT: Chief, Conservation & Technical Research
Room A102 (English with Bilingual Q & A)

Join Doris Couture-Rigert, Chief, Conservation and Technical Research, as she address the challenges faced in conserving, restoring and displaying works of art in the Canadian and Indigenous Galleries

3:30 PM GENEVIÈVE SAULNIER: Conservator, Contemporary Art
Room B205 (French with Bilingual Q & A)

Join Geneviève Saulnier, Conservator, Contemporary Art, as she address the challenges faced in conserving, restoring and displaying works of art in the Canadian and Indigenous Galleries.

NATIONAL GALLERY OF CANADA SHOWS #ART #FREE ALL DAY: The new #Canadian and #Indigenous Galleries open at the NGC in #Ottawa

The National Gallery of Canada opens its doors to a changed story of Canada.

Last night the National Gallery of Canada previewed the new hanging of the Canadian and Indigenous Gallery to members. Today the gallery is open to the public and FREE for the full day. This is a great opportunity to see the NGC’s reinterpretation of their space.

FROM THE NATIONAL GALLERY OF CANADA:

In these transformed galleries, the remarkable stories that have shaped our land are told through art. Beginning with art from 2,000 years ago, and ending with abstract painting in 1960s Canada, this presentation features masterpieces of Canadian and Indigenous art. See renowned works by artists such as Tom Thomson, Emily Carr, Norval Morrisseau and Daphne Odjig, as well as new acquisitions, including works by James Wilson Morrice and the stunning Naskapi
Ceremonial Coat.

Also on view are thematic displays that explore the magnetic north, inhabited landscapes, Canadians abroad, and the emergence of Inuit art: a true testament to the rich and multifaceted Canadian experience. (read more…)

So much hard work and care has gone into these transformed spaces. Congratulations to everyone who was involved in an important conversation!

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.

WHY BUY: Ottawa Art Gallery’s #lepARTy2016 & why buying art matters

Ottawa’s art auctions create opportunities to strengthen the arts community.

My first month living in Ottawa I made a small purchase – a tiny black and white painting of a woman who stared out from the frame with an ambiguous gaze. The artist had rendered her with no legs. She ended at her torso where the edges of her baggy shirt stopped abruptly on the paper. She represented my feeling of being truncated due to no roots in the city I unexpectedly had arrived in. Two years later that same painting sits on my desk as a reminder of how deep my roots have grown and that I have found myself located in a thriving arts community. I bought this piece at a fundraiser art auction. The purchase I made will always be linked to the memory of that night and the inspiration I received from being in a city that supports the arts.

That night became the first of many local art auctions I  found myself attending, including Ottawa Art Gallery’s Le pARTy. They have become annual traditions that I don’t want to miss. I watch friends get into hot bidding frenzies in order to expand their art collections. I like having my calendar year punctuated by celebratory moments of people purchasing art. I like seeing the exhilaration people get when they invest in something that moves them. Off the wall the work comes and into their home it goes along with the story of the where and the why on how they acquired the work.

But it’s more than just buying the work, it’s about the relationships that are formed around the event – the planning and the people who put those plans into action, the artists who donate, the collectors who buy and the organizations that reach out their audience. It’s a feedback loop that, when done well, has the potential to benefit everyone in the community – the artists, the art lovers and local galleries and artist-run-centres.

Last year, at Le pARTy I watched (with envy) as a beautiful work went home with a lucky couple. That couple, Bridget Thompson and Danny Hussey (Central Art Garage) are known around town for being the kind of people who actively walk the talk and participate in multiple ways to encourage a healthy art scene in Ottawa. Danny shared with me that “as collectors both Bridget and I see the auction as a chance to connect with and support artists. We look for work by regional and Ottawa artists that are interacting with the broader Canadian and international art scene. We never really know ahead of time what if anything we will buy. One of the best parts of the art auction is meeting the artists and getting to know more about them. Once you make that bond it becomes natural to follow their careers and to continue to support them.”

“Caitlin” from Second Self Series by Meryl McMaster

The artist whose work they purchased last year, Meryl McMaster, is currently exhibiting locally at Ottawa’s Carleton University Art Gallery (CUAG). Meryl is one of many Ottawa artists whose reach is branching out beyond Ottawa. Nationally, Meryl’s work belongs to collections at the Art Gallery of Ontario and the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria as well as internationally at The Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian but despite her growing success home is where her heart still remains.

When I asked why she participates in OAG’s art auction she replied “I donate my work to Le pARTy primarily because I believe in the Ottawa Art Gallery is an important institution for Ottawa and I find it rewarding to support the work that they do, supporting local arts and bringing great artists to show in our city. Le pARTy is a good opportunity for artists to have their work viewed by a broad new audience and for art collectors to discover new artists that they are not familiar with. This all happens in a lively environment that allows artists to form new connections with people in their local community.”

At this year’s Le pARTy Danny isn’t just showing up as a collector, he is also playing an important role in the planning process of Thursday night’s now SOLD OUT event.

“From the administrative side, this year I am serving as Co-chair of the auction along with Hattie Klotz. There is so much that goes into the the event and such a long list of contributors. It would not be possible without the artists contributing work, the restaurants and caterers that donate their services and food, all of the corporate sponsors and dozens and dozens of volunteers. The staff at the OAG does a lot of the work behind the scenes and they should get a large share of the credit.”

Also lending a hand as well as adding a critical eye for
#lepARTy2016 is Vicki Heyman, wife of the US Ambassador to Canada. Known for the cultural tour de force she has brought to the Ottawa arts community with the Art in Embassies initiative including Contemporary Conversations at the National Gallery of Canada, Vicki is one of this year’s participating jurors.

“This is my third year attending Ottawa Art Gallery’s Le pARTy and my first time participating as a Critic. It was such an honor to be asked to participate in a deep way in Le pARTy – I feel strongly about supporting the OAG and the artist community here in Ottawa. The artists in the Ottawa area have such talent, and they are truly representative of the diverse narratives of Canadian stories, culture and heritage. It is always special to connect with and support local talent because you get the opportunity to experience the voice of the artist, not just the art, and develop rich relationships that often transcend the art itself. The Ottawa Art Gallery is a treasure in this city, and I am looking forward to the completion of the transformative expansion and redevelopment of the building and programming.”

As Ottawa gears up for the 2017 moment that includes the renovations of the Arts Court building and the Ottawa Art Gallery these events that bring us together grow in importance. And this Thursday, OAG’s Director Alexandra Bardak reminds us, “Le pARTy 2016 marks a special year for the Ottawa Art Gallery. This is both the 20th year of the event and the final year in our current spaces. Each of the art auctions over the past 20 years has been the result of our supportive community. The OAG is extremely thankful to all of our partners – from the artists who donate work, the guests who buy tickets and purchase artworks, the restaurants and caterers who supply food and drink, and the corporate and community partners who support the event. Many of these people have been with us from the beginning and we’re looking forward to celebrating with them on Thursday, June 9th.”
So why buy? Because along with a work you can love each day and a lasting memory of great event shared with friends you are also investing in the future of your community.It feels good to put your money where your heart (and your home) is.

Missed out on getting your Le pARTy ticket? You can attend the Pre Le pARTy event tomorrow night.

WHEN: Wednesday, June 8, 2016 Doors Open at 6 pm Panel begins at 6:30 pm
WHERE: Ottawa Art Gallery (2 Daly Ave)
TICKETS: Free! RSVP through Eventbrite

TOPIC: Where does photography fit within the contemporary art gallery?

“A panel discussion and Q&A with photo-based artists and photographers from Ottawa exploring the role of photography today both in and out of the public and private gallery space. An initiative started in conjunction with Le pARTy in 2014, Le pre pARTy consists of a lively panel, moderated this year by Michelle Gewurtz, Interim Senior Curator at Ottawa Art Gallery, followed by a Q&A and reception with music, mingling, hors d’oeuvres and beverages.

This free event also offers the opportunity to view the installed artworks available at Le pARTy in advance of the auction as well as the chance to purchase the Le pARTy Special Edition photograph portfolios a day early!”


Above images by Maija Hirsimaki courtesy of Ottawa Art Gallery.

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.

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!



DIVINE TIMING: Celebrating Indigenous Solidarity with Niigaan on December 10

Woman standing with protestors and the parliament building in the background

When a plan comes together in spite of it all.

When the curators working with the National Gallery of Canada came together to plan Sakahàn, the largest exhibition of Indigenous work ever held, they couldn’t have known that right before the Spring ’13 opening there would be a political movement that would globally link people in solidarity with Indigenous movements around the world.

When Idle No More emerged as a force for change no one could have predicted how quickly social media would spread the news like wildfire – #IdleNoMore#INM, #CdnPoli, #SovSummer, #Oct7Proclaim, #ElsipogtogSolidarity.

And as the Harper Government amped up its campaign of greenbrain-washing this country, a reactionary plan came together quickly because the seeds of change were already being watered and nourished and were ready to bloom.

And blossom they did! The internet was the fertile ground beneath the virtual commons where everyone who wanted to participate could look, listen and learn.

I discovered I could be in two places at once, morally locating myself with like minds via livestreams, tweets and Facebook groups (like Walking With Our Sisters & The Journey of the Nishiyuu) even if I wasn’t able to show support in person.

I felt I had a kind of empowerment that I never had before. I could have a say in what was happening in Canada now and play an active part in envisioning what it can become in the future.

I also felt the grounding that hope gives when you know that there are so many people out there who are willing to be uncomfortable for the sake of protecting the land.

Data collection allows for metrics around keywords and hashtags but what cannot be fully quantified are the relationships that have been made because of people coming together around a cause. A system of roots has now spread across cyberspace.

And those roots don’t just exist online. A year after Idle No More started I find that it’s hard to imagine my life without the people I have met due to the divine timing of a political movement, an art exhibit, and computer technologies that allow us to find each other.

Throughout my journey this year I have encountered many who recognize that  something important is happening –  things have changed, the time is ripe.

The Anishinaabe prophecy of the 7th Fire speaks of an era when people of all races and faiths will unite in an effort to direct the evolution of humanity towards an existence that chooses spirituality over materialism.

I believe that no matter our background we can understand this to be true as well as appreciate the importance of the timing – we have to pick a path.

Logo that says Niigaan with flower decoration

An organization that works toward facilitation around moving forward with strengthened relations between Indigenous and Non-Indigenous Canadians is Niigaan In Conversation. On March of this year, Niigaan held its first event to a packed out house! Sensing a need for constructive dialogue around Treaties as well as a welcoming space for Non-Indigenous people to learn about Canada’s troubled history Niigaan offered a much needed service in the months following the start of Idle No More.

The legacy of their hugely successful inaugural event lives on because of its accessibility online but the great news is if you want to have a chance to experience the energy of Niigaan in person this coming Tuesday December 10 in Ottawa, on unceded Algonquin Territory, Niigaan is offering us all a chance to celebrate a year of change, begin more new relationships and continue building a plan around solidarity.

NIIGAAN: IN CONVERSATION WITH RED MAN LAUGHING
THE NATIONAL ARTS CENTRE
Ottawa
Tuesday, December 10, 2013
5 – 9 pm
$75 per ticket or $30 for students / underemployed
PURCHASE TICKET ON EVENTBRITE

Bring your cha-ching for the Silent Art Auction with works from Christi Belcourt, Sonny Assu, Jaime Koebel as well as Kelly-Ann Kruger, Mo McGreavy and Shady Hafez

Man singing while playing traditional Aboriginal drums
People holding hands and dancing in round dance in front of Parliament Buildings

Resources to More Indigenized Places in Cyberspace:

CBC’s 8th Fire Series & 8th Fire Dispatches

Leanne Betasamosake Simpson’s Website & Book “Lighting the 8th Fire”

Niigaan Website & Facebook Page

The National Gallery’s Sakàhan Website

Walking With Our Sisters Website & Facebook Group

Muskrat Magazine

Man singing with traditional Aboriginal drums Above images taken at the Solidarity for Elsipogtog Event on Parliament Hill. All images by Leah Snyder for Mixed Bag Mag.

BON ANNIVERSAIRE!: Louise Bourgeois

Image of Louise Bourgeois' Maman in front of the National Gallery in OttawaLouise Bourgeois’ “Maman” in front of the National Gallery in Ottawa. Photo by Leah Snyder for Mixed Bag Mag. 

Happy Birthday to French born artist Louise Bourgeois! As with all artists, even though she has past from this earth her spirit remains alive through her art as seen here in the courtyard of the National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa.

Watch the video below for more information on the above sculpture “Maman”.

More on the art of Louise Bourgeois in this short doc from PBS