IT’S COMPLICATED – Indigenous artists respond to Canada’s Sesquicentennial.
I have been looking forward to this show ever since I first heard the rumour it was going to be happening! Ottawa is home to a great community of Indigenous artists and as part of the National Arts Centre’s Canada Scene the 007 (Ottawa Ontario 7) will be showing at Central Art Garage, a small but mighty gallery located in Chinatown.
This is not the first show for 007. Artist Barry Ace started the collective as a way to create shows that were not curator focused but driven by the decisions and the desires of the artists.
The Ottawa Ontario 7 (OO7) are a group of Ottawa-based emerging, mid-career, and established artists who have come together as a collective for the sole purpose of presenting new work outside of the established curatorial practice and traditional institution art venues. The collective’s philosophy is unrestricted and provides each artist with the freedom and flexibility to take risks, experiment, or present works that are an extension of their current body of work. (read more…)
This year’s show is in response to #Canada150. Along with the opening there will be a panel discussion and film screening. The panel “will reflect on the five-year anniversary of the OO7 Collective and Special Agents, including their formation and exhibition history. The artists will also share their personal views and response to Canada’s sesquicentennial celebrations in 2017 through a poignant discussion on their works of art in the Central Art Garage exhibition It’s Complicated.”
To Indigenous peoples of this land, from coast to coast to coast, 150 years represents a very minuscule passage of time, especially in terms of the longstanding presence and occupation of homeland territories. Yet this seemingly fleeting moment in time is monumental in its impact on Indigenous communities, culture, language, identity, rights, water, and land.
This exhibition by 10 Indigenous artists working in diverse artistic practices offers an alternative perspective to the widely propagated Canada 150 celebrations by revealing timely and poignant aspects of the convoluted historical and contemporary relationship between Canada and Indigenous peoples. If there is any room for celebration in 2017 from an Indigenous perspective, it is a celebration of survivance, tenacity, and perseverance. It’s a complicated celebration. (read more…)
4 PM PANEL DISCUSSION
The panel will include artists Barry Ace, Howard Adler, Rosalie Favell, Meryl McMaster, Ron Noganosh, Frank Shebageget, and Leo Yerxa.
7-10 PM OPENING
Please join the artists for a sneak preview of the exhibition following the discussion. Food and beverages will be available for purchase, hosted by The Belmont restaurant.
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.
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
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!
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.
This week Gord Downie premieres his project The Secret Path at the National Arts Centre and on CBC
I had the opportunity to attend the premiere of The Secret Path this past Tuesday at the National Arts Centre. It was not an easy event to get through. Gord Downie along with illustrator Jeff Lemire have created a work that invokes discomfort and deep pain – as it should.
Chanie (Charlie) Wenjack was a young Anishinaabe boy from Marten Falls First Nation. He was only one of 150,000 children that were taken from their parents and placed into residential schools often thousands of kilometres away. Far in physical and emotional distance, a large percentage of these children, an estimated 6000, never returned home.
The Wenjack family was present at the NAC and has been a part of this project to bring awareness not only to the past but also to the present – many Indigenous teenagers must leave their community to attend high school. Having high schools on all reserves would allow for kids to stay in their home communities. This is part of the message of Pearl Wenjack, Chanie’s sister, who shared with the audience at the NAC her memories of her little brother and her hope for his legacy.
Along with the production of The Secret Path video and album a foundation (The Gord Downie & Chanie Wenjack Foundation) has also been established to raise money for projects that promote opportunities for cross-cultural dialogue between Non-Indigenous and Indigenous communities. In the spirit of reconciliation, as Gord Downie says “It’s time to get started folks, we had the last 150 years, now we have the next.”
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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 edition of C Magazine is on Citizenship and features:
“Derrick Chang, Victor Wang on the 12th Bienal de la Habana, Yaniya Lee on citizenship and Canadian art criticism, Krista Belle Stewart, Scott Benesiinaabandan, David Garneau and Cathy Busby responding to Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission Report, and Justin A. Langlois, Amanda Shore, Rinaldo Walcott, Leah Snyder, Elle Flanders, Tamira Sawatsky and Adrian Blackwell questioning citizenship at the Venice Biennale; plus an artist project by Tyler Coburn. Also included are reviews of exhibitions and books, as well as our regular sections On Writing by Critical Art Writing Ensemble, Inventory by Bambitchell and Artefact by acqueline Hoang Nguyen” Read more…
To purchase or download the digital version click here.
From the Creative Time Summit Venice 2015 website:
“As the Director of the American Indian Program and Associate Professor in the History of Art and Art Departments at Cornell University, Jolene Rickard is primarily interested in issues of indigeneity within a global context. Her recent projects include serving as the advisor for “Sakahàn: 1st International Quinquennial of New Indigenous Art” at the National Gallery of Canada in 2013, conducting research through a Ford Foundation Research Grant in 2008-11, participating in New Zealand’s Te Tihi Scholar/Artist Gathering in 2010, and co-curating the inaugural exhibition for the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C. in 2004. She is from the Tuscarora Nation (Haudenosaunee). Her book,Visualizing Sovereignty will be published in 2016.”
Watch all the Creative Time Summit 2015 Venice presentations here.
Charles, or “Chinni Charlie” as he is known to his family, was born in 1839 but despite the 175 years we are removed from his physical presence on earth his spirit continues to speak through the hands of his great grandchildren.
Charles Edenshaw. Sea Bear Bracelet, late 19th century silver. McMichael Canadian Art Collection. Photo: Trevor Mills. Image courtesy The National Gallery of Canada.
The exhibit is housed in the galleries that are usually reserved for the Inuit Collection. This intimate space is well suited for the story of Charles and the family ties that are presented in the exhibit. As you read through the information provided you understand how important family was to him and how important he is today to his descendants that refer to him by the Haida word (Chinni) for grandfather.
When you turn left to enter into the first room of the exhibit you are met with a piece that spiritually roots the work. It is unlike the rest of the collection of platters, hats, walking sticks, and silver spoons that look as pristine as if they have come fresh from the artist’s hands. It is a cradleboard that Charles youngest daughter, Nora, identified as being hers and may have also been used for his other three daughters – Emily, Agnus, and Florence – who came before. It is worn down with the wear of practicality from safely securing babies to backs. Simply carved and embedded with abalone shells, it starts off an exhibit that includes work by the men who are descended through two of these women – James Hart and Robert Davidson.
Just beyond the cradleboard is a fantastic Transformation Mask by James who is also the hereditary Haida Chief. On the other wallNangkilslas: He Whose Voice is Obeyed is the other Transformation Mask by Robert that bookends a bentwood chest attributed to their great-great-grandfather. A photograph on the wall beside Robert’s mask shows the one by their Chinni which inspired both of them as master carvers. Now too fragile to travel with the exhibition the strength of his descendants skill fills the void left by its absence.
Transformation Mask, circa 1882-1890: wood, bird feathers, animal fur, pigment, leather copper. / VANCOUVER ART GALLERY
“Chinni Charlie “wished he could leave his hands to us” meaning he wanted to leave his talent to his family. In the end he did. The ones who carry on in the family like to say that “we get it from Chinni Charlie and Nonni Isabella – it runs in the family.”
Nonni Isabella was Charles wife, known also by her Haida name Qwii.aang. A talented artist in her own right, the exhibit showcases the work that she did with Charles, her partner in life and art.
Her skill as a basket and hat weaver using spruce root can been viewedup close and personal. The exhibit includes many examples of her work woven with tedious precision. Charles would paint her pieces infusing them with more layers of meaning to teach the “Haida Way”. These beautiful objects also speak to the relationship between spouses who were creatively inspired by each other’s talent.
Charles and Isabella Edenshaw (attr.). Eagle Hat, c. 1890 spruce root, paint. Museum of Anthropology, The University of British Columbia. Photo: Trevor Mills. Image courtesy The National Gallery of Canada.
In this generation the spirit of Nonni Isabella is embodied in her great-great-granddaughter Lisa Hageman Yahgulanaas. Lisa is a talented textile artist who “weaves in the geometric style of weaving known as Yelth Koo or Raven’s Tail” embracing the complexities of the art form as her Nonni did.
Charles Edenshaw (attr.) Model Pole, c. 1890–1905. Argillite. Image provided by the National Gallery.
A cultural strand was not severed.
The night of the opening you could witness the thread of Charles’ legacy stitching the past to the present as family members from the temperate West Coast arrived to the chilly winter of Ottawa to be present and pay their respects.
When I ask artist Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas to tell me what is important about his Chinni’s work when viewed in acontemporary context he replies:
“my great grandfather worked in one the most important traditional styles, the tradition of innovation.”
Long before Picasso happened upon the African masks that inspired him to produce a radical new style of painting, Charles was soaking up what arrived in his world that was ‘exotic’ and foreign to him. Reading the newspapers and books that landed in his lap from faraway lands, he would cut out what interested him to hang like an inspiration board on the walls where he worked. Animals not indigenous to the terrain of Haida Gwaii, like elephants and lions, started to make appearances in his work but with an incorporation that seemed natural when viewed amongst the Haida symbols.
Not only did Charles break new ground with regards to hybridized content but he experimented with materials, like gold and silver, introduced during the Colonial expansion. He incorporated the new with the traditional materials and was able to confidently shift from wood, to metals and then on to argillite as evidenced by the wonderful platters contained in the exhibit. These platters, made of the black slate that was locally quarried yet still labourious to obtain, are transmissions of the oral traditions that still survive in these (post) post modern times.
This contemporary legacy goes beyond family to include so many carvers working today. Tlingit artist Nicholas Galanin recalls how his first instructor (Louis Minard) was taught by A.P Johnson, an artist who had some point learned at the hands of Charles. You see the substantiation of Charles in Nicholas’ work. One of his recent creations is a beautifully carved piece titled Indian Children’s Bracelet, a deceptive title for what it really is – child sized handcuffs used to restrain Aboriginal children who were being separated from their families and taken off to schools. (Read more here.)
Indian Children’s Bracelet. Hand Engraved, Iron. Nicholas Galanin. 2014. Image courtesy Nicholas Galanin.
The Indigenous traditions of the Pacific West Coast, like carving and weaving, have continued to influence the international art scene and the work of Nicholas as well as Charles’ familial successors – Robert, James, Michael and Lisa – are part of collections around the world. But this is nothing new. Even in his time, Charles was recognized widely. In 1902 the ethnographer C.F. Newcombe declared Charles to be “the best carver in wood and stone now living.”
Almost two centuries of international influence! This would be remarkable for any family but the fact we are even able to experience the work is nothing short of miraculous. Charles lived through not one but two small pox epidemics that claimed almost the entire Haida population. The odds were that he should not have survived let alone gone on to thrive as a celebrated artist with an extensive family still practicing in the traditions he learned from his own elders 200 years ago.
Along with the almost complete loss of a people, the traditional ways of being were forced to go underground. The Anglican missionaries condemned the practice of tattooing the Haida clan symbols on skin so bracelets instead of bodies became the place where one could claim their identity. In 1884 the Potlatch was banned and a thriving culture almost came to a halt but was not fully annihilated. Somehow that thinning cultural strand, weakened by ‘progress’ and British expansion, was not entirely severed.The combined four hands of this couple stitched, built, and carved a new path to Sovereignty. They did this all while raising their children – 11 in all.
Today we prosper from the richness they left behind and the talent passed forward.
The Charles Edenshaw exhibit is a love letter to a grandfather, a creative collaborator and a spiritual mentor. This exhibit is a family tale that can inspire us all.
The exhibition ends Sunday May 24 at the National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa. For exhibit hours click here.
More information on the Charles Edenshaw exhibit can be found here.
Created with graphites, crayon, watercolour, ink pen and brush, rice paper and canvas support “Papered Over” is a work Michael writes was “inspired by the winter light on clear days in Calgary Alberta will in residence at Mont Royal University.”
Work by Larissa Healey and Corey Bulpitt (great-great-grandson of Charles Edenshaw) at Sakahàn, The National Gallery of Canada. Image by Leah Snyder for Mixed Bag Mag.
Along with Larissa, Corey explains his process for the above work commissioned as part of last year’s Sakahàn, the National Gallery’s International Indigenous Art Exhibit.
“James Hart, great-great-grandson of Charles Edenshaw, and exhibition curator Robin Wright, discuss what makes the Charles Edenshaw exhibit at the National Gallery of Canada, so special.” View on Youtube here.
The Three Watchmen by Chief James Hart on Sussex Drive in front of The National Gallery of Canada. Image by Leah Snyder for Mixed Bag Mag.
Left to right: Actor / Writer Cliff Cardinal, youth worker Rob Chief, co-creator of huff Elizabeth Kantor and Sarah Garton Stanley, Associate Artistic Directory of English Theatre at the NAC.
Bravo to the National Arts Centre / Centre National Des Arts Ottawa for creating safe spaces for tough conversations.
As the Q & A (Talk Back) session wrapped up after NAC’s Tuesday night performance of huff Sarah Garton Stanley (Associate Artistic Directory of English Theatre at the NAC) passionately declared “We are so proud of having this piece and it’s a piece we want everyone to see!”
If you don’t know about huff it’s a play by Cliff Cardinal that explores what he believes is the most taboo subculture existing in Canada – Aboriginal children who are addicted to solvents. And because of the subject matter the play is understandably intense and difficult to watch. Cliff’s strategy of immediately making the audience complicit as witnesses pulls people in so they can’t back out despite the uncomfortableness. It’s the right tactic because now Canadians can no longer say they aren’t aware of issues facing First Nations children. This country’s shame is ever present in the media and as witnesses we have a moral obligation to be part of the process that will lift this intergenerational burden off these children.
Local Métis artist and tour guide Jaime Koebel (www.indigenouswalks.com) was so moved by the play seeing it once wasn’t enough. She has now seen it three times in order to absorb what Cliff accomplished with this piece. She says:
“Cardinal’s ability to take on 16 characters in a one hour time span mirrors the intensity of the content within the show itself and provides a peephole’s view of life on a reserve soaked in destitution. Despite the heaviness of the subject matter, the fact that Cardinal is presenting this play at all is a testament to the resiliency of the fastest growing population in Canada.”
When a gentleman in the audience asked “Is there any way of knowing that we are progressing in the treatment of Aboriginals” panelist Rob Chief, a youth worker, answered “Cliff is here [performing the play] and you are here [watching].” Perhaps for all the steps forward that seem to follow with several steps back, slowly but surely, there is an illumination that leads out of the darkness and artists are leading the way!
A friend who accompanied me was impressed by all the interconnecting issues that were touched on beyond the issue of addiction – the educational system on the reserves, poverty as well as incest. “The parts on incest were hard to watch but these are the things we should be talking about because it is the first step to collectively contribute to the solution.”
She feels that “having these stories on stage is a good starting point to build connections between First Nations people and Canadians around the issues” and she “appreciated that all of the people on the panel mentioned that this is all of our history.” She reflects that “by watching a play like huff and talking about these stories we create the on-going dialogue that needs to happen.”
An experience that leaves you with action steps as to how you can help.
Another strategy Cliff and co-creator Elizabeth Kantor deployed was to have resources on hand for each person in the audience to leave with. These resources give lists of organizations, both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal, that provide services around these issues. They also gives online links you can visit to read up and become more informed.
This was the most effective part of the performance – the “Talk Back” and provision of educational and support tools. So often we leave a performance (or film or lecture) dealing with heavy topics stunned by what we have just discovered but also lost as to how we can grapple with it. To create an experience that goes beyond just a performance to ensure the audience walks away with action steps as well as support is a strategy I hope to see more of.
I love that the NAC understands the important role they play in fostering these types of safe spaces! Sarah provided the audience with name after name of Aboriginal artists who “shine a path by either entering into the academy [to teach arts education with a different perspective] or not entering but teaching in their own way.” These are the cultural provocateurs who will lead this country to a renewed place.
So the future is hopeful but only if we all reach into our deepest empathetic places. I had some trouble with the play’s ending and final message that the help the main character needed lay just beyond in the spirit world because the help needed in these desperate times lies in the here and now. We need to make intentional decisions around moments when we are intimately faced with another person’s pain to that turn the experience into action.
When asked by an audience member “What do you think can be done?” Cliff addressed us all by saying “In this room you each know people who have influence, perhaps you yourself have influence. Give your time. Write a cheque. I know you can come up with something! I don’t have the answers but I know you have the solution!”
huff runs until Saturday. Performances are as follows: