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.
Colten was a 22 year old man who was murdered on Tuesday, August 9. He was out for the day with friends. On the way back home they got a flat tire. They drove down a farmer’s lane to get help. They chose the wrong farm. While sitting in the back of the car Colten was shot by the farmer whose laneway they drove down. In one article I read the farmer’s wife was reported as saying “that’s what you get for trespassing” to the surviving friends.
Last week the farmer, charged with second degree murder, pleaded not guilty and was let out on $10,000 bail.
After Colten’s murder was released in the news social media was full of people posting in support of the farmer, Gerald Stanley.
1 person posted “In my mind his only mistake was leaving 3 witnesses.” That person was Ben Kautz. Kautz is (was) a councillor for Regina. He was not fired for his post that advocated for the death of 3 people. Rather, he “offered to resign” after social media responses to his post put pressure on him. Kautz’s wife was reported as saying “My husband removed his comment. I wish we could just leave it at that.”
Kautz himself said “It was a stupid thing to say. It wasn’t serious, (but) the damage is done. I’ve got to live with it.”
Why the callousness and such disregard for the lives of these young people as well as lack of grace for what the mourning family, friends and community of Colten’s must be going through? Because Colten was from Red Pheasant First Nation. Colten, as an Indigenous male, was in the wrong place at the wrong time looking for help from a bigot.
Another city councillor was reported saying about Kautz’s comments ““I think everybody says something sometimes that they regret 10 seconds after. I don’t think you’re human if you haven’t.”
Equating hate speech as something we all do? Only people with bad hearts say things like this and don’t consider the weight, the impact and the hurt those words have.
I have been in arguments with people that say Canada isn’t racist. I have had one person concede that that racism is well – “benign racism.” I am not really sure what that means as racism is never benign. Maybe it means that if that person doesn’t have a weapon that the person on the receiving end of the racism won’t be injured or even worse killed, that racism in Canada is different because the gun laws here differ from the States? Maybe Gerald Stanley’s Canadian brand of benign racism might have had different results if he wasn’t holding a gun that he felt justification for shooting because they were on his “property.”
“Born in Baghdad in 1973, Adel Abidin currently lives and works between Helsinki and Amman. He explores the complex relationship between art, politics and identity, using a sharp palette of irony and humour to address themes of alienation and marginalization. He has presented his works in video, installation, sculpture and photography extensively throughout the world, notably at the Venice Biennale, the Guangzhou Triennial (Guangzhou, China), the Sharjah Biennial (Sharjah, United Arab Emirates), the Biennale of Sydney (Sydney, Australia), the Kiasma Museum of Contemporary Art (Helsinki), the Aga Khan Museum (Toronto), the Gwangju Museum of Art (Gwangju, South Korea), the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art (Humlebæk, Denmark), the MACRO (Rome), the Mori Art Museum (Tokyo) and the Mathaf Arab Museum of Modern Art (Doha, Qatar).”
Creative Time presents “A Subtlety” in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.
I make a scattered dash to get to the Kara Walker exhibit in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Hot day, with an intense late-spring / almost-summer sun blasting me and the pavement I am pounding. I get lost then located. I turn the corner to see the longest lineup I have seen for art in sometime.
Kara Walker. A big sign makes it clear this is an event!
“At the behest of Creative Time Kara E. Walker has confected:
or the Marvelous Sugar Baby an Homage to the unpaid and overworked Artisans who have refined our Sweet tastes from the cane fields to the Kitchens of the New World on the Occasion of the demolition of the Domino Sugar Refining Plant”
Once inside the Domino Sugar compound there is a long march into the factory where another blast of heat hits you. This time it’s combined with a sweet smell.
The immediate feeling is of being overwhelmed. The scene is fantastic! Honey coloured light dappling a cement floor textured by the wear and tear of once busy workers. More texture on the rusted out walls that offer a palette of cobalt blues and deep muscovado browns. Beyond the crowds, at the far end of the factory, this gorgeous, towering, powder-white statue rises up – intense with her omnipresent stare.
But then your eyes adjust to the dim warehouse light and your nose notices that the once inviting smell has turned into a toxic sweetness. The scent becomes more rank as you move closer to the sugar sphinx. It mixes with dust and hot human sweat. It doesn’t smell good and the scene that at first seemed stunning loses its charm as you notice you are surrounded by statues of small children, barefooted and barely clothed, standing so they reach slightly above the level of your heart. They each hold a gathering basket. Although they are fixed in their location they seem to multiply and move because as groups of sightseers wander off another child emerges through the dusty light.
It is these children that become the most haunting part of this installation. Constructed from resin and covered in molasses, their bodies leak onto the concrete floor leaving a puddle of black gummy moisture that traps your feet. The dark slick reflects back the faces of the meandering masses that approach the bodies like they are curios.
They are fascinating. Their technical production makes them close to life-like despite the fact that their heads loom too large on their spindly frames. Some even seem to smile but you can’t be sure if it is the case because their face may have shifted as the molasses melts.
The crowd bends to see them face to face, the crowd comes close to touching, but only the little ones, without socialized inhibition, reach out. As they do their parents snap photos, telling them to hold still and smile.
What becomes even more curious then the sugar statues is how the crowd reacts. Met with the visual reminder of the slave trade people pose with the sugar babies flashing a tourist’s grin.
When confronted with the sweetness of life gone sour what should be our appropriate response?
I wonder why they smile in a scene that, if you pause for a moment to think of the reasons Kara Walker’s sugar mammy and molasses children have been constructed in this space, is distressing. At the edge of the East River, for over 150 years, the Domino Sugar building was used as a processing plant for the imported cane that came to America from the colonies. Blood sugar – a term used to demonstrate how the sugar trade was bound to the slave trade yet the crowds want to be memorialized with the look of pleasure on their face.
It’s not that the crowds seem unsympathetic to the histories Kara references. Racially mixed (albeit predominately white), I am sure the majority are aware of what they are witnessing.
So how do we commemorate our experiences with art that is meant to be challenging? As we ram head on into the digital (sur)realities of the 21st Century have we stopped to think about our decorum when we bear witness to problematic subject matter? Have we been educated on how to be critical; have we considered how to be respectful?
Historically cameras were restricted in art spaces but now, often, they are allowed. With a population that is snap happy and needing to share they were there what does this mean for the way we now interact with art?
Are we in the actual moment or does the camera mitigate us from needing to be fully present in those times when we are confronted with difficult realities, realities that may even challenge our lifestyle choices?
We are primed from a small age how to interact with a camera. Like the parents instructing their curious kids, we are told to ‘smile’. Should there be times when we ask ourselves, is our documentation appropriate? Could there be a better way for us to use this ubiquitous technology we have access to?
Upon entering the exhibit a sign reads “Please do not touch the artwork but do share pictures on social media” and the hashtag #KaraWalkerDomino supplied.
As I write, the trending content for this tag is Jay-Z, Beyoncé and their baby daughter Blue. They have been spotted on a Father’s Day outing to the Brooklyn location.
Besides Beyoncé (and the occasional off-colour comment alluding to the Sphinx’s sexualized nudity), the tweets are mostly of people expressing how impressed they are by the artist’s work but the opportunity for a more expansive discussion, even if only in 140 characters is missed.
People seem willing to participate in the spectacle but are they willing to participate in active change?
This sweet stuff is serious stuff.
Kara Walker’s work is not just a memorial to a past travesty. Everyone’s sweet tooth is still sucking bodies into modern slavery and bonded labour. The syrup that drips from the statues of the children is like a living organism that marks the space in real time. The legacy of the sugar trade is in our present moment. When the Domino Sugar Factory is finally demolished, clearing way for condos, what will have changed?
Social media exposes where we are at culturally. The evidence left behind by hashtags demonstrates that there is much work to be done around how best to digest what we should find distasteful.
Inside our pockets are powerful tools. Technology has given us the means to not only discuss our reactions beyond our immediate circle but also archive them for a future population of new users. We each have the capacity to participate in building extensive and transformational legacies around the art that impacts us.
When the molasses evaporates and powdery dust swept away what remains?
Hopefully an expansive documentation of how people were deeply moved by the work and a record of thoughtful interactions in 140 characters or less.
“Over the past four decades, Creative Time has commissioned and presented ambitious public art projects with thousands of artists throughout New York City, across the country, around the world—and now even in outer space. Our work is guided by three core values: art matters, artists’ voices are important in shaping society, and public spaces are places for creative and free expression.” Read more on Creative Time…
The exhibition continues through until July 6, 2014.
“Midway through Candide, Voltaire’s famously naive protagonist enters Dutch-controlled 18th-century Suriname, where he encounters “a negro stretched upon the ground, with only one moiety of his clothes, that is, of his blue linen drawers; the poor man had lost his left leg and his right hand.”
“Good God!” exclaims Candide, who proceeds to ask the man why he’s in such terrible shape.
“When we work at the sugar-canes,” the man answers, “and the mill snatches hold of a finger, they cut off the hand; and when we attempt to run away, they cut off the leg; both cases have happened to me. This is the price at which you eat sugar in Europe.”
“White sugar has always been for rich people. White sugar has always been guest sugar, company sugar, sugar for public display. Parlor sugar…
…It takes bones to get sugar white. Thousands of pounds of cow bones burned to bone char are used to bleach sugar in processing plants. My Hindu parents, for whom beef was the ultimate taboo, did not know this when they proudly displayed white sugar lumps in their silver sugar bowl…
…Some of us take our sweet dirty. Extracted. Not poured.”
“The overwhelming whiteness of viewers isn’t unique to Walker’s exhibit. There are more than 17,500 museums in the United States that are visited by 850 million people annually, the vast majority of whom are white. Art, particularly when it’s commissioned and it’s covered in important publications like the New York Times, is often seen as the exclusive domain of white folks. Museums, dating back to their modern origins in the 18th century, were usually built by wealthy white patrons and enjoyed by middle and upper class European families. In the American context, they served a specific purpose for opening up and exploring a new continent, according to Ford Bell, head of the American Alliance of Museums who was quoted by NPR in 2008. People of color — their customs, their cultures and, in the infamous case of Sara Baartman, their bodies — were usually the object of those white gazes. But in recent years, as the country’s demographics have shifted in favor of a so-called majority-minority, the art world has made great strides in featuring the work of artists of color. It’s hard to imagine any work by an artist like Walker or Carrie Mae Weems, at the Guggenheim 50 years ago.”
“…Meant to serve as a commentary on the sugar cane trade, and a cultural critique of slavery and perceptions of black women throughout history, the work is part Sphinx, part racist Mammy stereotype, and is coated in sugar. It features exaggerated features including breasts, a bottom, and a vagina. As Walker told artnet News, “Nudity is a thing, apparently, that people have a problem with; not slavery, or racism, but female bodies, or bottoms.”
And sadly, she is correct. While few appear to have responded to the work with charges of indecency, some visitors have been unable to stop themselves from mocking and sexualizing the work, uploading photos pretending to cup its breasts or tongue its buttocks. This gross behavior has, understandably, struck a nerve with feminists and racial equality activists alike. Yesha Callahan of The Root writes, “History has shown us time and time again how a black woman’s body was (and sometimes still is) objectified. From the days of the slave trade to even having black butts on display in music videos, the black woman’s body seems to easily garner laughs and mockery, even if it’s made out of sugar.”
Artist Nava Waxman at Wall Space Gallery.Image by Leah Snyder.
Artist Nava Waxman’s RITUALS is a beautiful show by a beautiful artist who knows how to infuse all of her work with mystery and movement.
Painting by Nava Waxman at Wall Space Gallery. Image by Leah Snyder.
“Not all ideas can be communicated through words. Gesture and movement, memory and the sensations of the body have their own language, just as art does. These “languages” and the ideas they communicate cannot be reduced to the simple structures of grammar that shape so much of our understanding.
Nava Waxman’s work is a laboratory of thought. The remarkable quality of her pieces is in their capacity to focus on the body as an instrument directly linked to a mode of thought. An idea is given the space to evolve through the action of drawing. The body, which is always present by abstraction in Waxman’s works, is capable of both communication and possessing a living memory. This memory is internal and organic. It cannot be accurately represented with spoken or written language. In this latest series of works – by basing her series of repetitions on the starting point of a single action, represented in a movement of the hand applying paint – Waxman creates visual works whose meaning cannot be divorced from the movement that created them. The visual representation of the action becomes analogous to the ritual of the movement itself.”
The show closes this weekend at Wall Space Gallery, 358 Richmond Road, Ottawa.
Hours of Operation this Weekend:
Saturday 10 – 5 pm
Sunday 11 – 4 pm
Balloon Sculpture by artist Willy Chyr. Image courtesy the artist.
On a chilled night in a 2011 I walked quickly down Ossington Ave to meet up with friends to tour around Toronto for Nuit Blanche. Just beyond an open doorway my eye caught a glimpse of a mass of balloons twisting up and sprouting out in controlled chaos. Interesting. Weirdly beautiful. I was intrigued and stopped for a second but then quickly moved on to grab my friends downtown. I figured I would come back later.
Well later never came. My big regret of Nuit Blanche 2011 was not investigating this strange sculpture further. Usually I am the kind of person to take the time to pause so I reprimanded myself for being in too much of a hurry to stop and “smell” the roses art. I knew that I had to find out the what, who, and how behind this project. The brief mental snapshot I took that night was stuck in my mind’s eye and it wasn’t leaving.
Flash forward a couple of weeks later. I was at my monthly networking group Design with Dialogue. One can always expect to meet inspiring minds at DwD and that night I was about to meet someone quite special. When the evening wrapped people did the usual swap of contact deets and I walked away with a business card that had a unique image on the front. A few days later I looked up the website on the card and I realized I had found my “who” behind the brilliant balloons.
“Oh my gosh! You’re the Balloon Man!” I wrote to Willy Chyr then gushed on about how insanely-crazy-gorgeous-joyful his work was.
Balloon Sculpture by artist Willy Chyr. Image courtesy the artist.
Since then I have been following the rapid growth of Willy’s career. Expanding almost as fast as he can fill the balloons with air he has been busy making his mark on contemporary art. What I also love about his work is that its uniqueness arises from the fact that Willy truly is one of those people whose brain fires off inspiration in equal parts from both right and left hemispheres. Willy’s degree in Physics and Economics informs his art.
While earning his degree at the University of Chicago Willy “joined Le Vorris & Vox Circus and performed as a juggler, unicyclist, and magician. It was during his time in the circus that Willy learned how to twist balloons.” (cited from www.willychyr.com)
Willy’s educational and career twists and turns are as interesting as his balloon installations. I am delighted he had the courage to take the road less traveled. In the 21st Century minds that can move with ease between disciplines to fuse the generative source that is the seed of creative genius are going to change the world. For better! We will benefit in many ways from their illuminations and discoveries.
Perhaps the most obvious comparison one might make upon seeing Chiko Chazunguza’s paintings would be to the work of Jean-Michel Basquiat. But to stop there would be like experiencing a Wifredo Lam painting in the Cubist style and expecting that its inspiration followed the same trajectory to creation as a painting by Picasso. Like these masters of Cubism, Chiko and Jean-Michel punctuate the compositional conversation with some shared visual shorthand and technique but the point from which they leap off of is, like Lam and Picasso, individually unique and located within their own cultural specificity.
Originally from just outside Harare, Zimbabwe, Chiko spent seven years in Sofia, Bulgaria on an art scholarship. While in Sofia he “was trained in the classical modes of printmaking, drawing and painting”. Upon arriving home though Chiko realized that in order to expand as an artist he would have to enter back into the culture of his youth so he could find a visual language that would be his true to his way of scripting a story.
“I wanted to pick a language I could use that was compatible to my history, my tradition.”
Human walls by Chiko Chazunguza.
Finding a New Visual Language
The inspiration of mis-registration, the effect given by the areas that overlap and bleed out in screen-printing, seemed appropriate for this cultural provocateur. It was Chiko’s experience as a printmaker that made him “approach painting with an attitude of non-conformity”, to shift the paint just outside the lines. This overlapping and layering, inherent in the process of screen printing, spoke to the layers of culture – traditional tribal, leftover colonial, urban contemporary – that blanketed Zimbabwe in repression upon Chiko’s return.
“It was like being in Sofia during the breakdown of the old regime. Communism was kicking its last kicks was a dying horse and the political condition that I arrived home to was much the same.”
But it was not until another move, another cultural relocation, that Chiko began the collection and style of paintings showcased at the B.A.N.D Gallery for his show SHIFT.
Upon moving to Canada this artist, who is known back home for his installations that poke and prod at the socio-political contentions of a country in flux, picked up a pop can then oddly enough was inspired to paint.
Nursery 2 (detail) by Chiko Chazunguza.
It was the omnipresence of aluminum soda cans in Canada and their ease of acquisition that made them fitting as a symbol for consumer culture. Along with being ubiquitous they were durable – omni-persistent!
Nursery 2 by Chiko Chazunguza.
It was the “generousity of Canadians” who upon hearing he was an artist stocked him up with paint that got him started in combining the two materials to continue his theme of “reflecting on the traditional in transition.”
“Here food is always being advertised. It is at your doorstep, in your mailbox. Pop is a drink that is not necessary but it is always in front of you.”
Juxtaposed with hard memories of scarcity back in Zimbabwe, where people had to line-up single file into endless rows for basic staples, a vision was realized for a new body of work.
“Line-ups and people waiting in suspense for something to come, that was my inspiration…these line-ups look beautiful in their own way and you can almost forget the struggle…When there is a crisis, a shortage of basic commodities people behave differently and visually this informs.”
Passage by Chiko Chazunguza.
Shifting our Ideas of Who We Are
Many of the paintings in the SHIFT show come with pop cans, liquor labels and food advertisements cutting through the canvas like interruptions. They are then woven over, around and through deconstructed figures, busy heading nowhere in never-ending cues for food, for water, for life. Urbanization in Zimbabwe led to the inability for one to produce his or her own food which had been the previous traditional practice. A population of producers turned into a population of dependent consumers enmeshed (like the cans in Chiko’s work) in the ebb and flow of changing regimes.
“The figures are multi-faced; the disfiguration is because one’s face may change into all sorts of faces in that queue.”
While waiting in line with a stranger one can “start chatting, become friends, fall in love.” But by the end of the line the friend becomes the enemy and the lover a foe if one gets the last ration with nothing left for the one behind.
Nursery 1 by Chiko Chazunguza
Although the painted experience in Chiko’s work is intimately personal the anonymous quality of the figures in his paintings let them become the every(wo)man, no longer a “them” but an “us” as together, in this contemporary context, we face a future of scarcity on a global scale.
Following in the tradition of artists like the aforementioned Wifredo Lam we can see that Chiko, for his inspiration and call to action as an artist, draws from the common experiences of humanity in transition.
“Through art, I reflect upon how issues such as spirituality, disposition, denied access and interference with basic commodities, and the painful evolution of ancient cultural traditions into contemporary yet uncertain urbanized communities, all shape and shift our constructed notions of identity.”