MAKE YOUR WORDS AS SWEET AS STRAWBERRIES: And Other Great Work at The ImagineNATIVE Art Crawl

Screen capture of thumbnail size images Âhasiw Maskegon-Iskwew, isi-pîkiskwêwin-ayapihkêsîsak (Speaking the Language of Spiders), Website, 1994, screen capture courtesy of ImagineNATIVE.

It’s a great feeling to be in a crowded room and seeing that you are surrounded by people whose passion is making this world a more equitable and empathetic place. This is the first year that ImagineNATIVE has included an Art Crawl as part of its programming and judging by the large turnout it was a good call! Partnering with some of the galleries and artist-run-centres at 401 Richmond (also where ImagineNATIVE is located) Friday’s event was about “featuring contemporary Aboriginal new media art, commissions and retrospectives and artist talks by curators and attending artists.”

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On left, curator Jimmy Elwood. On right, Executive Director of ImagineNATIVE Jason Ryle.

Love Sick Child at A Space

The crawl began at A Space with Love Sick Child curated by Jimmy Elwood and featuring the work of ÂhasiwMaskegon-Iskwew along with Cheryl L’Hirondelle, Adrian Stimson and Leslie McCue. Leslie’s work was particularly poignant. She explains that the piece was based around an Anishinaabe saying “Make your words as sweet as strawberries.” Poised above a rock secured behind plexi-glass is a funnel of strawberry juice that slowly drips over the stone the duration of the exhibit causing it to become the colour of berries / the colour of blood. The audience is invited to talk into a microphone and speak words to the rock. The words can be thoughtful or thoughtless, kind or angry. Leslie explains that the rock, like our bones, forever holds the energetic vibrations of the words. When asked how one can tell if people are speaking positive or negative words to the rock she says you can’t. The blood red juice drips regardless and like verbal abuse one won’t see the direct impact of the words.

Artist Leslie McCue in front of her work.

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Photography by Tyler Hagan courtesy of ImagineNATIVE.

In The Similkameen / Similkameen Crossroads at Gallery 44

Another moving work is “In The Similkameen / Similkameen Crossroads” by Tyler Hagen at Gallery 44. This exhibit is part of an NFB web documentary which can be viewed at nfb.ca/crossroads.

“It’s a highly personal undertaking for Hagan, who, since obtaining his Métis citizenship, has struggled to reconcile his suburban Christian upbringing with the blighted history of the church in Indigenous communities.”

Left to right artist Tyler Hagan, Noa Bronstein of Gallery 44 and Daniel Northway-Frank of ImagineNATIVE.

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Photography by Nigit’stil Norbert courtesy of ImagineNATIVE.

Trade Marks at Prefix

The show at Prefix is “Trade Marks” and includes more photographic and new media work by Keesic Douglas, Meryl McMaster, Nigit’stil Norbert and Bear Witness, curated by Betty Julian.

“Trade Marks presents a new generation of Indigenous artists who, through newly commissioned photographic, video and audio works, challenge working assumptions of who they are. The exhibition contributes to the recently revived conversation on what it is to be Indigenous in Canada today. It also considers how these artists have responded to the imposition of Western systems of classification on non-Western arts and how their artistic practices have been informed by methodologies of decolonization.”

Top image: artist Keesic Douglas speaking about his work. Bottom images: Curator Julie Nagam and artist Lisa Reihana. Artist Bear Witness at Prefix Gallery.

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Lisa Reihana speaking about her work “in Pursuit of Venus” at A Space Gallery.

in The Pursuit of Venus back at A Space

The finale of the Art Crawl was the incredible work “in Pursuit of Venus” by Maori artist Lisa Reihana and curated by Julie Nagam.

“The video is inspired by the colonial 19thcentury panoramic wallpaper Les sauvages de la merPacifique(1804­05) which features European impressions of Indigenous South Pacific Islanders from accounts from Captain Cook’s and Louis de Bougainville’s journals, and reworked engravings by Webber and Hodges. Reihana explains that Les sauvages claims to be historical and is presented as such, when in actuality the wallpaper’s creators harvested information from different historical moments and relocated the bodies into a fictional Tahitian landscape, removing these Pacific people from their cultural, historical and political reality. In this work Reihana has re­staged, re­imagined and reclaimed the panoramic wallpaper by altering its original presentation of print form to live­action video. She has brought each character alive with breathtaking precision of Maori and Pacific cultural practices and embodied knowledge. Each person on the screen resists the colonial misrepresentations of the past and present encounters with Indigenous people across the globe. Reihana’sin Pursuit of Venus is a live-action masterwork that unbinds the shackles of colonialism by producing a highly refined and dynamic video that brings forth visual poetics of Maori and Pacific cultures and knowledge.”


“in Pursuit of Venus” by Lisa Reihana courtesy of ImagineNATIVE.

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If you missed out on last night you can still see these important shows tomorrow, ImagineNATIVE’s last day as well as in the weeks to come.

Love Sick Child @ A Space
Exhibition runs until October 26

In The Similkameen / Similkameen Crossroads @ Gallery 44
Exhibition runs until November 23

Trade Marks @ Prefix
Exhibition runs until November 23

in Pursuit of Venus @ A Space
Exhibition runs until October 24

Banner for ImagineNATIVE film festival done in comic book style

Click here for ImagineNATIVE’s Full 2013 Programming Schedule

You can also follow along on their Facebook Page or Twitter @imagineNATIVE.

Unless otherwise noted all above images by Leah Snyder for Mixed Bag Mag.

CRITICAL DIALOGUES: The OAC & OAAG Create a Space for Discourse on Cross-Cultural Perspectives in Curating


KW | AG’s Senior Curator Crystal Mowry sharing what gets her thinking about cultural institutions and the manifestation of nostalgia.

21st Century art spaces need to reflect the diverse cultural values of Canada.

As we demographically shift as a country so do our demands on how our cultural institutions curate the visual experience of who we are as a Nation.

The galleries and art spaces that are progressive in their programming are the ones who will remain relevant to a population that doesn’t singularly reference Europe as ‘THE’ source of artistic inspiration. Monday’s event “Critical Dialogues: Cross-Cultural Perspectives on Curating and Artistic Practice” (hosted by Ontario Arts Council and Ontario Association of Art Galleries) pulled together an interesting panel of curators that demonstrated that things are indeed changing!

The 21st Century Curator as Cultural Activist.  

The day was divided into two panels moderated by independent curator and art consultant Betty Julian and The Power Plant’s new Artistic Director Gaëtane Verna. Each of the presenters shared how their curatorial practices began as intentional acts of defiance against issues regarding historical amnesia, nationhood, exclusion, gender and race.

When speaking about their show 28 Days: Reimagining Black History Month Pamela Edmonds & Sally Frater of Third Space Art Projects said that their motivation “arose from ambivalence that we had towards Black History Month and how it is usually disengaged from contemporary art. There is a typical [predicatable] aesthetic, the content usually reflecting on the subject of slavery.”  Pamela and Sally also take issue with how Canada is often left out of the conversation on the Black Diaspora and 28 Days was a deliberate attempt to address this and bring Canada into the dialogue.

Vicky Moufawad-Paul, Artistic Director at A Space Gallery sees the gallery as a social laboratory and her curatorial practice is centred on the ability art has to communicate to its audiences and raise necessary questions. In “Blown Up: Gaming and War”, a provocative exhibit on war games, Vicky asks what happens when the subject finds that they are occupying a contradictory position. One of the works in the show, Weak by Mohammed Mohsen “is a poetic exploration of the architecture of gaming and its impact on a colonized subject who grew up playing these games. Having experienced one of the few ineffectually censored access points to western media in Saudi Arabia in the 1980s, Mohsen suggests ways in which video games were a troubling source of pleasure and political anxiety.” (cited from www.g101.ca)

Painted lines of text about Iran some overlapped with black and some with red on white background.

The current exhibit at A Space Gallery is Time Lapsed by Gita Hashemi. The exhibit is about the “historic events in Iran, distilled through a unique web of analysis and channeled into insights that are ultimately as personal as they are historic and political.” (cited from www.aspacegallery.org)

For Gita it was the personal political that pushed her into curating.  “I came to curating because there was a lack of Iranian women but there was a lot of talk about us but not by us.” As an artist, out of necessity, she began to self-curate and says that the “serious separation between artist and curator is a questionable proposition for me.” Is it time that we see more artists like Gita take up a hybridized role of artist / curator? Judging by the presentations of the panel this is already happening.  Along with Gita, Camille Turner and Crystal Mowry, Senior Curator at Kitchener Waterloo Art Gallery, also spoke of how they move from artist to curator and back again depending on their project needs.

Tall black woman in red ballroom dress with sash that says Ms. Canadiana flanked by two white woman one holding a painting sideways stone wall behind them.

Camille opened her presentation by asking “why is Blackness still a surprise in Canada?” Good question. Her projects, regardless of the role she takes, are about “locating discarded narratives” as well as challenging our “Nation’s foundational narratives.” Camille’s project Hush Harbour arose from thinking about how space reveals and conceals.

“HUSH HARBOUR is a SonicWalk that incorporates sound, walking through space and listening through headphones to (re)imagine Toronto’s Black past and to remap Blackness onto the Toronto landscape. HUSH HARBOUR transforms the space that currently hides the Black presence and enables participants to travel back in time. Sound is recorded binaurally and creates an immersive three-dimensional world in which to explore the Black experience.” (cited from www.camilleturner.com)

Another curator who like Camille is challenging Canada’s foundational narratives is Jessie Short, National Coordinator for the Aboriginal Curatorial Collective / Collectif des Conservateurs Autochtones. The mandate of ACC / CCA is to inform “the public about the role of Aboriginal art curators in protecting, fostering and extending Aboriginal arts and culture in North America and around the world, through acquisition, conservation, interpretation and exhibition.” (cited from www.aboriginalcuratorialcollective.org)

Logos for Aboriginal Visual Culture Program, Aboriginal Curatorial Collective, and Ontario College of Art and Design University

With symposiums like Revisioning the Indians of Canada Pavilion: Ahzhekewada [Let us look back] curators like Jessie are taking on the task of calling Canada out on how the stories of this Nation’s Indigenous Peoples are often referenced in the past tense disposing of how First Nations, Inuit and Métis in Canada are impacting and contributing to contemporary culture.

Crossing borders with honest talk about settlers, migrants and Indigenous populations.  

The entangled question of how settler / migrant / indigenous dynamics play out in reality against Canada’s well branded status as a progressive Multicultural society was raised by panel members. Srimoyee Mitra, current Curator of Contemporary Art at the Art Gallery of Windsor and former Program Coordinator at SAVAC (South Asian Visual Arts Centre) related that upon coming to Canada as an international student she was confronted with this clear fact – Canada’s “open” society had closed off and concealed narratives below the surface. In her current curatorial endeavour at AGW she explores the contested spaces that geographical borders can become and how in the context of North America’s Indigenous Peoples the creation of the US / Canadian Border fixed fluid populations to a static location / nation slicing through established communities and family lines.

Information and logo for Border Cultures exhibit at Art Gallery of Windsor on until March 31, 2013

“Taking place annually from 2013 – 2015, Border Cultures is an exhibition-in-progress, conceptualized as research-based platform for artists and cultural producers to explore and examine the border through different lenses: Border Cultures: Part One (homes, land) in 2013; Border Cultures: Part Two (work, labour) in 2014 and Border Cultures: Part Three (security, surveillance) in 2014. The objective of this series is to mobilize and connect the ongoing critical dialogues on national boundaries in Windsor, with multiple and diverse narratives and experiences of border contexts in different parts of the country and the world. Border Cultures: Part One (homes, land) brings together artists working locally and nationally with those exploring these issues in Ireland, Mexico, Palestine to list a few. Using drawing and printmaking, sculpture and photography, video and sound-based installations, artists in this exhibition develop nuanced critiques and perspectives on questions of nationhood, citizenship and identity in the border-lands” (cited from www.artgalleryofwindsor.com)

Putting theory into practice and walking the talk.

It’s not only the programming in the galleries that needs to be revisioned but also the programming in academic institutions. The discourse that occurs in educational settings can filter out into the practice of alumni to have tremendous impact. Programs like OCAD U’s Indigenous Visual Culture Program allow both Aboriginal and Non-Aboriginal students to benefit from the rich artistic history and core values of Aboriginal Peoples.

Book cover, purple with image of modernist cubist style painting Andrea Fatona, Assistant Professor in the Criticism and Curatorial Practice Program at OCAD U, related that when she began her career in the 80s she started by contesting the exclusion of people of colour and Aboriginal Peoples. She goes on to say that it was even hard to find a “language” to address the issues she was grappling with. Andrea shares that it was Paul Gilroy’s book The Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double Consciousness that “gave me a language to debunk the notion of a universal aesthetic.”

surrealistic drawing with floating hand holding strings like a puppeteer with the strings attached to double headed person It is gatherings like these that allow us all to explore language and collaborate on stringing together the words that best express our ideas. It is also in these types of spaces where we are able to see how the cross-cultural nature of artistic expression in Canada has given us a visual legacy that is incredible in its depth. The presentations by curators Yan Wu of Gendai Gallery and Tamara Toledo of LACAP (Latin American-Canadian Art Projects) showcased wonderful portfolios of work by Asian Canadian and Latin-American Canadian artists  but in the time allotted they only scratched the surface.

Above art work by Z’otz* Collective.

“Help a small, experimental, not-for-profit arts organization to survive in today’s economy! To keep the voice of a minority model in today’s cultural ecology!” Click here for Gendai
Gallery’s Indiegogo Campaign to raise money. 

Softening the silos and creating more cross over communication.

Portrait of middle aged black man in suit speaking behind podium with wall of wood slats behind him

Not just about cultural diversity, this event was also about encouraging a multiplicity of professional voices to be heard by softening silos within the institutions as well as igniting dialogue between all types of art spaces. Keynote speaker Dr. David Dibosa’s call to action was to “bring together your skills” as employees of institutions, community activists in artist-run-centres and independent curators, for it is in these overlapping perspectives we can locate the new directions and the right solutions. He also encouraged the audience to go even further outside the comfort of disciplinarily silos. “Don’t reach for solidarity [with your professional community], go beyond!” Part of the team who executed the research on the groundbreaking project Tate Encounters, Dr. Dibosa related that even the “intelligence of the cleaners and the guards” is important as they “have expertise on the exhibitions that is unique.” In other words, for cultural centres and curators to truly reflect the value of their public they must go broad in their inquiries. Dr. Dibosa feels that it is “only with this detailed knowledge we will ensure that the dialogue will reach and we will hear what needs to be said.”  

bald man kneeling while painting a canvas outside at night in graffiti style with spray paintAn organization already doing this well is Manifesto, a not-for-profit community-based arts organization that believes in the transformational power of art. Manifesto’s Visual Art Director Ashley McKenzie-Barnes gave great ideas as to how get an audience engaged. Taking advantage of new technologies the Manifesto team encourages attendees to submit post-event digital evaluations. They also utilize low-tech traditional town hall meetings to get important feedback. By doing this Manifesto has been able to galvanize their audience, extend their brand and produce great programming relevant to their community.

Reflecting back on the entire day and the words of each presenter, MIXED BAG MAG was encouraged that in Canada we have a wealth of professionals who approach their practice with rigor and the intention to be self-reflexive, collaborative and inclusive. Quoting Dr. Dibosa “the challenge of democratization is how do we reflect the values of our audiences and [ensure] that their voices are continually heard?”  Monday’s event demonstrated that Canada’s new breed of curators is up for that challenge!

Multi-racial group of young people walking in middle of street holding up white banner that reads Art is PowerImages of Dr. David Dibosa and Manifesto by Leah Snyder for Mixed Bag Mag.

MIXED BAG MAG thanks Ontario Arts Council, Ontario Association of Art Galleries and all the presenters for an important and provoking event.