Starting today and running through until Monday July 3rd Toronto’s Harbourfront Centre, a leader in diverse programming that speaks to our times, is hosting Our Home on Native Land Festival. Indigenous artists will be performing all weekend long. Some of the featured artists include:
On the occasion of Canada Day, Our Home On Native Land aims to spark questions, conversations, and ultimately a rethinking of “what it means to be Canadian” by foregrounding, celebrating, and making space for the diverse voices and stories of belonging to this land that are often excluded from typical ideas and expressions of Canadianness.
By focusing on narratives of creative resistance, intersectional solidarity, social justice, and decolonization, Our Home On Native Land reveals the connective threads that exist between Indigenous and diverse, newcomer communities in their creative contributions to the artistic and cultural fabric of Canada, or Kanata.
This festival takes its title from a well-known act of resistance committed by Indigenous peoples across Canada, whereby they intentionally change the line “Our Home and Native Land” to “Our Home On Native Land” to re-ascribe Indigenous sovereignty over the lands now known as Canada.
This expansive thematic show that uses House music as both an allegory and an art form ends this weekend. It’s worth spending time moving back and forth through the rooms to hear, or rather feel, how the soundscape informs works that are deceptively benign but loaded with signifiers of oppression / liberation creating intersections where labour meets love.
Today, Saturday, October 29 Toronto talent Esie Mensah will be performing between 2 – 4 pm.
“Chicago-based artist Theaster Gates takes over the fifth floor of the AGO’s Contemporary Tower with an immersive exhibition exploring the potential of the house museum—historically important landmarks that have been transformed into legacy sites. Gates proposes new ways of honouring and remembering Black experience and explores the potential of these spaces through music, dance, video, sculpture and painting.”
Club SAW hosts Black History Month Doc & Talk in partnership with One World Film Festival.
WHAT: Screening of Invisible City WHERE: Club SAW at 67 Nicholas Street, Ottawa WHEN: Thursday, February 25 at 7 pm COST: Suggested donation is $5 for the general public & $4 for One World Arts members. **Seating is limited**
One World Arts and the One World Film Festival are marking Black History Month with a screening of the award-winning documentary INVISIBLE CITY and a post-film talk with Saide Sayah (Program Manager for the Affordable Housing Unit at the City of Ottawa) and Chelby Daigle (Community activist and long-term resident of social housing).
The evening will also feature a new Heritage Minute about Canadian civil rights icon Viola Desmond, a Nova Scotian woman who challenged racial segregation and is often referred to as “Canada’s Rosa Parks,” courtesy of Historica Canada.
INVISIBLE CITY follows the lives of two black teens from Toronto’s Regent Park neighbourhood, Kendell and Mikey, as they make the transition from adolescence to adulthood. Their mothers and mentors root for them to succeed as the teens grapple with issues of race, crime and notions of manhood and the social pressures of an environment that places them at risk.
Turning his camera on the often ignored inner city, Oscar-nominated director Hubert Davis sensitively depicts the disconnection of urban poverty and race from the mainstream. INVISIBLE CITY was the winner the Best Canadian Feature award at the 2009 Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival.
Click here to join, like and share this event on Facebook!
Also, this week INTERGALACTIC NOISE:: A partnership between Black Future Month & the Art Gallery Mississauga
WHAT: Panel Discussion and Reception WHERE: Art Gallery of Mississauga WHEN: Friday, February 26 at 7 – 10 pm
“Intergalactic Noise invites a re-engagement with the concept of Black History Month, as artists, designers, and multi-media creatives explore the concept of Afrofuturism. In using the date of 3016, Black Future Month offers an entry point to imagine utopic Black realities beyond the assigned month. Rather than accepting a naïve concept of a future full of advanced technology, the featured artists instead contemplate the possibilities of an advanced humanity.
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.
Oh my! Where does one start?! First let me say this. There is nothing boring about Ottawa. So let’s just put that “it’s the city that rolls up the sidewalks at night” myth to rest. Just when I think I might get a breather from events the Writers Festival ends by seguing this city into another festival celebrating the arts – The National Arts Centre’s Ontario Scene. “Imagine 600 Ontario artists, from all disciplines, performing in the national spotlight on the stages of Ottawa/Gatineau: that’s Ontario Scene.”
The biggest limiting factor to Ontario Scene is that my body only allows for me to be in one place at one time. I may have to settle for 300 Artists, 30-ish events and maybe 1 less day.
I have already clocked two events with back to back nights at Carleton University Art Gallery for the Opening and Artist Walk Thru of the current exhibit “Human Nature.” This show “presents fourteen contemporary Ontario artists whose works look at the state of the natural world and our impact on it.”
Images by Leah Snyder for Mixed Bag Mag.
Graffiti Boxman Project. Photo Flips BSC. Kwende Kefentse.Credit James Park Photography.
“Century Song is a live performance hybrid showcasing the extraordinary Canadian soprano NEEMA BICKERSTETH. A radical revisioning of the recital form from one of Canada’s most exciting theatre companies, it is part classical song, part dance, part projection, and entirely theatrical.” Find outmore…
Digging Roots. Raven Kanatakta and Shoshona Kish. Photo Ratul Debnath.
DECLARATION is a great Ontario Scene initiative that will be running from April 29 to May 3.
“DECLARATION is a celebration of Indigenous peoples’ right to engage in the creation and evolution of arts and culture, as asserted in Article 11 of the 2007 United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Created by Toronto-based ARTICLE 11, DECLARATION is an immersive, live, sound and image installation and performance-creation lab. It offers the rare opportunity to witness established Indigenous artists mid-process as they take risks and explore new approaches and collaborations in a responsive, interdisciplinary environment.”
Read more about the full DECLARATION programming here.
Santee Smith. Image by Red Works.
John Morris, NAC Executive Chef
Also, on the menu, literally, is food – the best of what Ontario has to offer in the culinary arts.
On Monday night:
“le café presents a WINEMAKER’S DINNER that showcases and complements the delightful wines of Pelee Island, Canada’s oldest and most southerly wine region. For this special occasion, National Arts Centre Executive Chef JOHN MORRIS will prepare a sumptuous five-course menu with all-Ontario ingredients, and every course will be paired with the finest varietals that Pelee Island has to offer. Winemaster MARTIN JANZ, of Pelee Island Winery, will be in attendance.”
On Tuesday night:
“Experience the innovative and mouth-watering creations of more than a dozen top chefs from across the province as they vie for the $10,000 top prize in the ONTARIO CULINARY CHALLENGE. Each chef will prepare uniquely Ontario small plates, using a selection of 100% local and regional meats, cheeses, fruits, and vegetables. With the support of Wine Country Ontario, chefs will be partnered with Ontario wineries to produce the perfect food-wine pairings, which attendees can sample throughout the night. Rub elbows with chefs, sommeliers, and media, sample some of the province’s finest wines, and cast your vote to award the first-place prize for the very best of the best in Ontario’s culinary arts.”
Alright, time for a 2nd shot of espresso and I will be ready to go.
“Urban fabric as a metaphor for the city” ~ Deborah Wang
“The artists in Urban Fabric: Portraits of a City engage with the interwoven hard and soft dimensions of the city from multiple perspectives; their photographs, paintings, sculpture, film, and pattern-making create a portrait of a city, often taking Toronto as their subject.”
This year’s Toronto Design Offsite included an interesting partnership between TO DO and the Textile Museum. Urban Fabric: Portraits of a City, curated by TO DO’s Creative Director Deborah Wang (pictured right) traversed the intersections of what comprises a city – “the built environment, webs of individuals, and the social, technological, and economic processes that produce a particular urban framework” as well as the insertions / assertions of nature.
The exhibit featured stunning photography by Scott Norsworthy that included the West End of Toronto. Hard isolating walls of bricks, unbroken expanses of asphalt and a multiplicity of electrical wires were softened by gentle light blanketing the concrete jungle with air and sky. Sheila Ayearst‘s series of Concrete paintings also contained a softness despite their subject matter. The canvasses, in varying shades of gray, had titles like Beaconsfield Concrete, again recalling the West End and its rapid development.
“Holes in the urban fabric, these sites speak to the city as an evolving network of development, appropriation, redevelopment, undoing, and neglect.” ~ Scott Norsworthy
“Visitors in search of escape instead encounter.” Jessica Craig
Jessica Craig’s large projection of a location along the Don Valley revealed the lushness of a green Toronto that doesn’t just exist as an unattainable Shangri-La in our imagination.
Don Valley #212 (2012). Image provided by Jessica Craig.
“Long protected from intervention by floodwaters and topography, the ravine defies construction and therefore profit: it is a fracture in an otherwise unified urban fabric.”
Jessica’s photographic work considers the concept of “terrain vague” and in her essay Landscape off the path she writes:
“Terrain vague is Ignasi de Solà-Morales’ term for abandoned spaces within a city that exist outside the common social realm and are often perceived as empty.”
These transitional spaces, because of the ambiguous mystery they offer city dwellers, hold latent potentiality as places of enchantment and restoration. “The value of the still unaffected land – and the relief it offers to a highly developed city – is difficult to quantify” but there is a sense that spaces, such as these, are seen as necessary in order to restore some sort of balance to the rigid confines of the constructed city.
(top to bottom) Don Valley #212, Don Valley #132, Don Valley #240(2012). Images provided by Jessica Craig.
“Roots are the first kind of textile.” ~ Scott Euson
For artist Scott Eunson plant roots are like fibers as they shoot up and spread out and the city is like fabric in that it is made up of many single “elements [fibers] that cooperate with the whole” as it rises up and moves out across the landscape like a rhizome. He spoke on how we often talk about the city as though it is a textile “neighbourhoods are knit together” or “densely woven.” He took wire and wood along with roots and bent metal, all found on walks through the city, to loop and twist a typography into place.
His piece Material Map – Toronto represents the complexity of urban spaces and their intertwining of newly digitized and still naturalized realities. The city is where we are often forced to locate our busy lives but not without letting go of our desire to feel our natural-ness now and again. As skyscrapers rise we haven’t completely forgotten the call of the waves. The shoreline always beckons us to return to some ancient cellular memory. Below the foundation of the city lies what was once the Glacial Lake Iroquois, what’s left now named Lake Ontario which means “Lake of Shining Waters” in the Wyandot language.
I like that this piece presented without judgement. In the assemblage there is no warning about the eradication of nature due to the city, the metal wires are able to co-exist with the natural. Despite the entanglement there is a type of order and an absence of hierarchy. The wood and wire take turns coming up between the foreground from the background, at times each receding, other times bending or breaking out of the grid.
The shape of the work represents Toronto as it is contained by the borders of the Humber River on the West and the Don River on the East. A few wires and twigs grow out past the North, West and East boundaries but at the shoreline of the Lake all halts, deferring to the great body of water that lies to the city’s south.
For me this piece is hopeful suggesting that there can be a resolution between the requirements of a city with all of its systems and our urban yearning for woods and water, that the existence of one doesn’t mean the end of the other.
Perhaps we can wrap ourselves around the notion that balance is not beyond our imagination and our quest to discover where it lies in the urban space is the taut thread that snaps everything in place.
Alex Colville was never an artist I considered as an interest. The experience of viewing the Art Gallery of Ontario’s current retrospective of his work left me considering otherwise.
Alma Duncan was never an artist I even knew to consider but her painting Young Black Girl (1940) is one of my favourites in the AGO’s collection. I had no knowledge of Alma at the time but I was drawn to the demure painting that used to hang in the round room to the right of the Old Masters Collection along with a Picasso from his Blue Period, and a pulsating Kees van Dongen. The room held a rotation of portraits and this enigmatic and somber piece made me return again and again.
Now the painting hangs at the Ottawa Art Gallery for one more week. It is positioned on the wall that intersects Alma’s bold self-portraits that greet me with a commanding series of stares.
There are many ways to conceptually enter into both the Alma and Alex exhibits but my pathway into understanding their work more deeply is through the relationships that they each present.
ALMA DUNCAN: The relationship one has with oneself.
Alma’s portraits of herself are entirely different than my introduction to her work through her subject of the black girl who sits slightly askew and closed off from the viewer. In each painting Alma positions herself squarely, looking beyond the frame to her audience. It’s as if she is daring those who might question her authority as an artist. She began painting at a time when the art world offered little opportunity for female intervention into male dominated spaces. Even as she paints her young self with braids bound at their ends with red bows (Self-Portrait with Braids, 1940) there is a clear message she sends as she stands affirming her right to participate. She paints herself wearing a pair of trousers instead of a skirt. When I encounter this row of paintings with such a strong female presence my thought is that I am disappointed that it took this long for me to find her.
In the main room, behind one dividing wall, are her renderings of mines and the machinery of industry from her time spent documenting a developing Canada focused on trade and resources; on the other side abstracted sketches of grass and landscapes softened with snow. We can see how far she travelled in her journey to explore her visual language but its when I enter the second room and experience the blood red wall upon which her Woman Series (1965) is hung that I have a longing accompanied by an intense regret that my younger self didn’t experience these at an earlier moment in my own odyssey.
I would have loved to have experienced her boldness in my youth when looking for creative and conceptual heros sheros. The clean cut demarcation between the black and the white is not set in opposition to each other but rather as a compliment from one to the other.
They are magnificent.
As I come closer I sense a movement in the shimmering of the strokes. It reminds me of the shadowy depictions of the Shroud of Turin also known as the Shroud of Christ. But this analogy is not quite right. Rather than a covering used for the dead I realize it reminds me more of a vibrating sonogram where you can detect a pulse, a heart beat, a life. This is why I find them so magnetic because as I walk towards a particulate one that draws me close I see the defining outline of a woman’s torso reflected upon itself emerging from the inky deep. Although she moves from realism in her early work to this period of experimentation with abstraction in the 60s the strength and intensity of that young woman with the braids and red bows is the anchoring attribute we find repeated here.
Alma’s work may visually change, flux and bend but the explorative relationship she has with herself as a female artist is what moves me. It’s why I find myself coming back to this newly discovered piece over and over again not wanting to say good-bye.
ALEX COLVILLE: The relationship one has with their lover and life partner.
When I am at the Alex Colville show its also a female relationship that grounds me into the exhibit. I make a few laps around the rooms, weaving in and out of the crowd, to finally sit down somewhere mid-point and watch a short film. The video is narrated by Alex’s daughter Ann Kitz and in a few short minutes she poignantly shares with us the timeline of her parents lifetime of love – a 70 year excursion that ends the way it began – together. Alex died just weeks after his wife’s passing.
Exploration by going deep instead of wide.
After experiencing World War II in his role as a war artist and documenting the liberation at Bergen-Belsen concentration camp it seemed like his marriage, which took place right before he left for war, became the stabilizing factor upon which he was able to build a career alongside raising a healthy family. The partnership with his wife, Rhoda, also an artist, gave him a solid foundation after experiencing the uprooting tension of conflict.
It was through this relationship Alex was able to arrive at both his signature technique and his recognizable aesthetic. Of the painting Nude and Dummy (1950) seen below he reflects that this was when he accomplished what he called his “first good painting.” From this piece we are able to see what is about to come down the road.
His visual journey doesn’t traverse the same distance as Alma’s trajectories. His way of rendering his compositions remains uniform throughout his career. He doesn’t become driven to aesthetic extremes; his loyalty to his signature style allows a deeper exploration into the psychological subtleties of the human condition. Alex’s work was about looking and then re-looking at a location or a person you know so well to find both the consistencies and the anomalies that open up a contemplative space. He was quoted as saying that “only by living in a little place for a long time can one build up a sort of extensive body of complex knowledge and understanding of what goes on.”
Alex is known for his compositions that convey foreboding messages of something disruptive beyond the horizon but in seeing many of the his works based on Rhoda there is also an undeniably playful spirit that comes through these images of this woman, his wife. We see her at leisure with the figure we can interpret as Alex in the background close enough to be at her call but far enough as to not disturb her relaxation; we see her with her pets and her children and playing the piano while her aging husband sits close by. Over their lifetime Alex portrays her nude and exposed but accessible in her humanness, flaws not banished for the sake of the artist reflecting a perfected muse. She is real and charming, a crisp outline of paint separates her from the background but because we never fully see her face this woman still manages to maintain complexity surrounded by mystery.
Her head is lost inside of a canoe that she portages to another place; she stands with acceptance, a body shaped by age, in front of the old grandfather clock in their home. The image I come to love the most is of Rhoda defiantly naked and flipping the perspective of the world upside down, the cat as a casual witness. I feel it illustrates the adoration Alex had for this woman, at once his muse and the mother of his children. I can sense a chuckle from him and hear laughter from her as she gingerly makes her way down to plant her feet back on the ground. Headstand (1982) becomes the image that I end up visiting again and gain and the one final time to say farewell as the show closes its doors.
Thanks to the AGO & the OAG for providing an opportunity to view the life and work of two important Canadian artists.
One World Film Festival opens at the Library & Archives this weekend in Ottawa.
This weekend whether you are in the Capital of Ontario or the Capital of Canada, both cities are hosting independent film festivals with programming that offers critique to current issues, like Oil and Occupation as well as Occupation because of Oil.
In Ottawa the One World Film Festival is in it’s 25th year. It runs from Thursday September 25th to Saturday, September 27th.
THURSDAY: Above All Else @ 6:30 pm
(Includes Panel Discussion with filmmakers John Fiege and Anita Grabowski and Ben Powless of Ecology Ottawa after screening)
“an intimate portrait of a group of landowners and activists in East Texas who tried to stop construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, a $7 billion dollar project slated to carry tar sands oil from Canada to refineries on the Texas Gulf Coast. They risk financial ruin, personal safety, and the security of their families as they attempt to protect their land and defend their rights. The film is both an exploration of the human spirit and a window into how social change happens in America.”More info…
FRIDAY: Virunga @ 6:30 pm (Includes Panel Discussion after the screening)
“Africa’s oldest national park, Virunga is a UNESCO world heritage site, and the last natural habitat for the endangered mountain gorilla. None of that will stop the business interests and rebel insurgencies lurking at the park’s doorstep. Orlando von Einsiedel pairs gorgeous natural scenes from Virunga with riveting footage of the Congolese crisis, raising an ardent call for conservation as a vital human enterprise. Along the way, he spotlights the incredibly dangerous work that is often required to safeguard the environment.”More info…
SATURDAY: Watchers of the Sky @ 6:00 pm & On The Side of the Road @ 8:45 pm
“WATCHERS OF THE SKY interweaves four stories of remarkable courage, compassion, and determination, while setting out to uncover the forgotten life of Raphael Lemkin – the man who created the word “genocide,” and believed the law could protect the world from mass atrocities. Inspired by Samantha Power’s Pulitzer Prize-winning book, A Problem From Hell, WATCHERS OF THE SKY takes you on a provocative journey from Nuremberg to The Hague, from Bosnia to Darfur, from criminality to justice, and from apathy to action.”More info…
“Former West Bank settler Lia Tarachansky looks at Israelis’ collective amnesia of the fateful events of 1948 when the state of Israel was born and most of the Palestinians became refugees. She follows the transformation of Israeli veterans trying uncover their denial of the war that changed the region forever. Tarachansky then turns the camera on herself and travels back to her settlement where that historical erasure gave birth to a new generation, blind and isolated from its surroundings. Attempting to shed a light on the country’s biggest taboo, she is met with outrage and violence.”More info…
Sunday includes a screening of Omar, one of my favourite movies of 2013. Along with dramas and shorts by Palestinian filmmakers, the festival also includes films about Palestine from the perspective of non-Palestinians. One example is Village Under the Forest.
“The Village Under the Forest explores the hidden remains of the destroyed Palestinian village of Lubya, which lies under South Africa Forest. During the 1948 Nabka, more than 500 Palestinian villages were destroyed. The Jewish National Fund raised money from around the world under the guise of ‘greening the desert’ and built forests and parks named after different countries on the remains of these villages in an attempt to erase their dark history. Writer/narrator Heidi Grunebaum revisits South Africa Forest, the forest she helped finance with the pennies she collected as a child twenty year ago. Using the forest and the ruins of Lubya as representative of a much wider process, this compelling film explores central themes of the Nakba – forced exile, erasure of memory, creating ‘facts on the ground’, and the Palestinian Right of Return.” More info…
“Making its debut at TIFF 2013, Giraffada is a light-hearted drama inspired by a true story. Ziad, a ten-year-old boy from the West Bank, spends all his free time at the Qalqilya zoo where his father Yacine (Saleh Bakri) works as the zoo’s veterinarian. In particular, Ziad has a special bond with the zoo’s two giraffes who he helps care for. Yacine, recently widowed, is determined to preserve the zoo as a haven for animals and for the local children who play there, temporarily escaping the hardships under occupation. One night, after an air strike on the city, one of Ziad’s beloved giraffes dies. The surviving giraffe stops eating due to the loss of her mate. Yacine is determined to save her by bringing in a new giraffe but the only zoo that can help him is in Tel Aviv. Yacine and Ziad are committed to doing whatever it takes to save their giraffe, even if it means breaking the law. Giraffada, which stars Mohammad Bakri (In Attendance), is a unique portrayal of childhood under occupation.”
Last week at Beit Zatoun TPFF hosted a talk on New Directions in Indigenous Cinema with Jesse Wente (Director of Film Programmes & curator of TIFF’s 2012 program First Peoples Cinema: 1500 Nations, One Tradition) and Rasha Salti (TIFF Programmer for African and Middle Eastern Cinema). Rasha discussed the historical and contemporary context of Palestinian cinema. There is a lot to be learned! The documentary Cinema Palestine offers more insight.
“Cinema Palestine is a poetic documentary which explores the life and work of multiple generations of Palestinian filmmakers and media artists. Based on in-depth interviews with a wide range of Palestinian artists living in the Middle East, as well as North American and Europe, the film documents the emergence of a Palestinian narrative through film, the relevance of film to the Palestinian national struggle and the relationship between art, personal experience and politics in one of the most contested landscapes in the world. The film features interviews with numerous filmmakers screened at TPFF including: Annemarie Jacir, Rashid Masharawi, Mohammad Bakri, Najwa Najjar, Hany Abu-Asad, Nasri Hajjaj and Mai Masri. A post-Screening Panel featuring Tim Schwab, Mohammad Bakri and Mais Darwazah will follow the film, with our guests further exploring the role of Palestinian cinema in the emergence of the Palestinian narrative.”
Screenings for the TPFF take place at TIFF and the AGO’s Jackman Hall. For full schedule details click here.
Rebecca Belmore “Sister” 2010. Image provided by Scotiabank Contact.
“KWE delves into the complicated and fertile relationship between Indigeneity, art, and colonization. Kwe is the Anishinaabe word for woman and is a term of respect. Rebecca Belmore’s artistic practice engages the question of what it is to be an Anishinaabe-kwe artist working today through photography, sculptures, videos, and performances.” Scotiabank Contact website
Crammed into a confined space at the Justina M. Barnicke Gallery are four videos that span the career of artist Rebecca Belmore. The combination of the tight squeeze, the darkness and the haunting sounds seeping from the headsets feels like an assault on the senses – as it should be. Because Rebecca’s work isn’t about being conceptual – it batters you, hits you hard, compels you to have some sort of reaction even if that reaction is to go deeper into denial because the uncomfortable truths she tells are too painful to wrap your head around.
Above images of Rebecca’s October 2013 performance in Toronto. All images by Leah Snyder for Mixed Bag Mag.
At a performance last fall as part of the Symposium on Decolonial Aesthetics From The AmericasRebecca scraped stone, blood, oil, over a window from the outside as we looked on as witnesses from the inside. The blazing lights of a parked car in a dark lot (aimed at the window and framing Rebecca’s body in silhouette) summed up how murdered and missing Indigenous Women (the current count according to the RCMP is 1181*) may have spent their final moments. I’ve travelled alone many times. I think of the close calls I have had on dark roads alone in cars with a man / men. There go I but for the grace of some god.
Why her, that Kwe? And why not me?
On might say because “she was in the wrong place at the wrong time” – the English phrase, that in this case, is a misnomer that actually means she was in a place where one is caught in a web of systems (beyond her control) that ensure that oppression won’t quit. An Indigenous woman’s body is still genocidal ground zero, lying under the immovable mass of Colonial rubble. At present very little is being done to protect our Indigenous sisters.
Despite the tragedy, Rebecca’s work has a beauty, and I am sure I am not the first to say this, a spirit of resilience. The KWE (pronounced K-way) exhibit demonstrates her ability to embed elegance into any composition or object. One exits from the room housing the videos into the main room inhabited by photography with a striking and succinct presence – a woman’s back, a worn jean jacket, outstretched arms, gracefully positioned fingers reach out as if to soften, with her touch, the room’s sharp corners.
In the series Untitled a woman is wrapped in the swaddled style of a mummified corpse. The spirit of the woman breathes into the negative spaces; her shadows extend beyond her physical presence. Rebecca’s compositions are laconic phrases that speak of life enduring.
KWE closes this weekend at the Justina M. Barnicke with a performance by Rebecca. The performance Ayum-ee-aawach Oomama-mowan: Speaking to their Mother Gathering will include taking the megaphone Rebecca constructed in 1991, as a reaction to the Oka Crisis (Kanien’kehaka Resistance), out of the gallery space into the periphery of the city – Gibraltar Point, Toronto Island.
“We are living through the pollution of our waterways from unregulated industry, and both Indigenous people and Canadians need to stand together to protect what Anishinaabe people and scientists believe is the lifeblood of Mother Earth. Many Indigenous women have brought attention to the issue through water walks, which actively heal the spirit of the water. Come lend your voice to their action or just hang out in support.” Read more…
This event is tomorrow, Saturday, August 9, at 1 pm on Toronto Island. Join the Facebook Event Page to find out information on shuttle buses from the Gallery and pricing for ferries to the island.
In light of what has happened this week around water this has become a more imperative event.
*NOTE ON THE NUMBER 1181: When I asked Métis artist Christi Belcourt of the Walking With Our Sisters Project to confirm the latest stats on the missing and murdered sisters she pointed out that the number doesn’t include deaths of Indigenous women who are ruled as suicide but whose death might actually be a murder. This number, she says, also doesn’t include trans women. Or women who were lost in the system of residential schools, adoption, and foster care. Or women who are non-status. So the number, in truth, is much higher. It is also important to note that Indigenous men are going missing and being murdered at an alarming rate.
LEFT: Rebecca Belmore at KWE opening. RIGHT: KWE’s curator Wanda Nanibush. Image by Leah Snyder for Mixed Bag Mag.
Image courtesy curator Lisa Truong.
“Skin Deep explores the enormous importance of skins and skin clothing in Inuit culture, past and present. In Inuit narratives, skin is something that can be worn, shed, and manipulated. People tattoo their own skin to affirm personal and cultural identities, and wear clothing made from animal skins for aesthetic adornment and protection from the elements. Skin Deep features the tools used to hunt animals and prepare their skins; prints, drawings, and sculptures depicting stories and objects in which skin plays a central role; and objects made from skin, such as mitts and boots. The exhibition includes the work of artists like Ningeokuluk Teevee, Jessie Oonark, Arnaqu Ashevak, and Helen Kalvak.”
Photo of curator Lisa Truong by Justin Wonnacott courtesy of Carleton University Art Gallery.
Inuit Art: Skin Deep is a small but impactful show selected with care by curator Lisa Truong. The exhibit currently on at Ottawa’s Carleton University Art Gallery, opened with uncanny timing this past spring after a winter of (justifiable) discontent from the Inuit community in response to Ellen DeGeneres support in the banning of the seal hunt.
The twittersphere was alive with #Sealfies as acts of self-determination. Some guests to the CUAG show expressed to Lisa that they had no idea until viewing the Skin Deep how vital seal was to the economy and culture of the North and now understood the reaction of the Inuit community.
Photo by Justin Wonnacott courtesy of Carleton University Art Gallery.
With the coming of Christianity to the North tattooing became a shamed practice. Unlike other traditions that went underground but were still practiced in secret, tattooing disappeared. Alethea’s decision to tattoo her own face, initially, was not met with support from her Inuk mother. The shame around marking one’s body to embrace one’s identity as an Inuk person has been etched deep into the psyche of the Inuit. Breaking with traditions became a strategy of survival once the European arrived and took control.
Knowing this, when you see Arnaquq Ashevak’s “Tattooed Women” in Skin Deep you understand that it contains loaded histories and contemporary victories in its quiet presence. Much like Rebecca’s Untitled series, the way the women are wrapped by the bands of ink can be read as simultaneously binding and protective.
“Tattooed Women” by Arnaqu Ashevak. Image courtesy of Dorset Fine Arts.
“when I saw Alethea’s documentary I knew I wanted to do something on the body and “Tattooed Women” was the first piece that popped into my mind. Alethea’s documentary shows reclamation of knowledge and a decision to go find that knowledge even if it is obscure – to go hunt it out – and place it on the body.”
Alethea’s choice to score her face with ink was a radical act of decolonizing her body. Her reversal back into time to bring forth a lost tradition will have dramatic impact on the future of her community. Already we see other Inuit women following her example.
Of Arnaqu’s work Lisa says:
“This piece is a reflective piece looking forward and looking back so on the right you have the woman who is representing the traditional body and facial tattoos as well as traditional forms of beauty. You can see ever so slightly the tattoos on her cheeks and two braids on the side of her head.
On the left a woman is clothed in tattoos that are contemporary, not to be literal, but as a symbolic decision on what parts to reveal and what parts to cover.
The way the women are posed, their arms up, they are asking people to look at their bodies. There is this gaze that travels across the body.
It’s a very warm piece and thought provoking piece because of the body language of the women – they are modest but have their arms up as to expose.”
For me, the power in this piece is the agency is expresses regarding women’s bodies and spiritual selves. As Lisa says, this work, like Alethea’s decision to tattoo her face “demonstrates the body as a place of political and cultural sovereignty.”
“Shaman Revealed” by Ningeokuluk Teevee. Image courtesy of Dorset Fine Arts.
The other piece in the show that as a woman moved me was “Shaman Revealed.” In a time when we desperately require (s)heros the unzipping of a woman’s skin to reveal the animal spirit inside speaks to the importance of personal transformation in finding the source of one’s influence.
The artist, Lisa says, “combines a traditional legend [the legend of Kiviuq] with contemporary flair. The story is about staying true to oneself and not criticizing others for being who they are.”
There is alchemic power when we reveal what we hide inside.
Both KWE and Skin Deep present the female/kwe body as the conduit of great strength and locate her beyond victimhood.
How one woman changed a community then went on to change the world.
So much of the way we think and act around neighbourhood, community and city building in the 21st Century is because of the ideas of a single woman – Jane Jacobs. If you need an example of how one human being can have huge impact, Jane is that inspiring person who walked her talk and went on to inspire an international movement. Her ideas of what a community should be resonated with many because it articulated what people already knew to be true as to why certain spaces become thriving communities.
Every year, to honour Jane’s legacy, cities world-wide hosts walks that allow people to discover some brilliant nuance of the place where they live that they may never have discovered otherwise. All of this is possible due to the thousands of volunteers who get out into their community and share their knowledge during Jane’s Walks.
I just discovered the above video highlighting a great walk I participated in a few years back. This walk, that featured the work of Toronto’s many street artists, had us meandering through the downtown core via the back alleys where a technicolour world awaited us. The tour was given by Jason of the Tour Guys, an organization in Toronto that specializes in giving offbeat tours of one of North America’s most interesting cities.
Women who are Indigenizing city spaces.
This year, in both Toronto and Ottawa, walks will be given that highlight the history of Indigenous Peoples.
“This walk will explore historic land use along Davenport Rd and the lands along the ridge while providing excellent views of the city. How did First Nations people get around? Who were some of the early movers and shakers? What was the origin of Wychwood Park?”
In Ottawa there is a newly launched initiative, Indigenous Walks, and IW’s tour guide, local Metis artist and educator Jaime Koebel, will be sharing her knowledge and passion for Indigenous history on Saturday and Sunday at 2pm each day. Jaime uses the experience of sight-seeing the beautiful monuments in the Capital city to allow people to experience the history of Ottawa, as well as the history of Canada, by walking in the shoes (or moccasins) of an Indigenous person. The tour starts at the Human Rights Monument at City Hall. More info can be found here.
And speaking of Indigenizing public spaces, artist Dana Claxton’s (Lakota) “Indian Candy” is part of CONTACT, Toronto’s annual festival celebrating the art of photography.
Each year CONTACT commissions work to be put up on billboards around the downtown core, activating what is normally a space reserved for spreading a message of commerce to instead spread messages on social issues.
Dana’s work “interrogates the presentation of Indigenous iconography through the digital archive in Indian Candy.
Working from found images of the “Wild West” sourced online, the artist focuses on those connected to Sitting Bull, the iconic tribal leader who led a resistance against government policies in the United States. As a descendant of Sitting Bull’s band who came to Canada, Claxton simultaneously mines her own personal family history and the legacy of racism. Her diverse range of images present aspects of Indigeneity in a new light; from the buffalo, which represents spirituality for Lakota people and was a main source of sustenance until their near annihilation, to signed souvenir cards from Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show. As a whole, Indian Candy uncovers truths and performs as a provisional archive of Aboriginal imagery seen through the lens of colonialism.”
For the month of May you will be able to see Dana’s billboards along Dundas St. West. For more information on the exhibit as well as a map click here.
Also part of CONTACT, some of MIXED BAG MAG’s favourite people, projects and art spaces!
And another favourite MIXED BAG MAG space for the arts, this time in Ottawa, is The National Arts Centre. This week “huff” has opened at the NAC and runs through until May 10. This provocative work has left everyone I know who has experienced it, changed. It’s not a piece of theatre that is easily digestible but despite the heavy subject matter, substance abuse among First Nations’ youth, people seem to walk away feeling that the experience of being uncomfortable witnessing Cliff Cardinal’s one man show was a positive one that includes a message of hope!
FYI- Be a part of the Samba Launch Party Procession Tonight at 6 pm. MIXED BAG MAG’ fave Zahra Ebrahim of archiTEXT will be one of the procession leaders of this walk that is all about PLAY! Details here.
WISHING EVERYONE A WEEKEND WHERE YOU LEARN SOMETHING NEW & HAVE FUN!
All above images of Jane’s Walk 2011 (Graffiti Tour & Samba Procession) by Leah Snyder for Mixed Bag Mag.