Rideau Hall Foundation Activators at Rideau Hall, Ottawa.
In a word this past week has been tremendous! Last fall, on a hunch, I decided to visit Ottawa again after two great visits during the summer for Sakàhan at the National Gallery of Canada. I thought I would stay for just a month. Fast forward a year later and I have decided to make Ottawa my (more) permanent home (with regular visits back to my community in Toronto). The decision to stay has turned out to be a good one!
Now on Board at CUAG, Ottawa!
A week ago it was officially announced that I will be joining the Advisory Board for the Carleton University Art Gallery (CUAG). When I walked into CUAG for the first time last year to visit Rebecca Belmore’s What is Said and What is Done (literally minutes before it wrapped) I knew I loved what CUAG was up to! Since my arrival in Ottawa they have consistently hosted incredible shows with more amazing ones lined up for the fall season.
Activating Rideau Hall.
This past weekend I was one of 40 people selected across Canada to be an
“activator” and take part in an incubator for the Governor General His Excellency the Right Honourable David Johnston’s legacy project Rideau Hall Foundation (Let’s Build Rideau Hall Foundation). As part of the branding team it was our mission to start to envision the key messages and look of the future RHF as well as how to get the word out to potential audiences. It was intense, exhausting and absolutely exhilarating because at the end of it all I realized how truly radical a space I was in. The leaders and co-creators I worked with are committed to building a New Canada that seeks to reconcile historical narratives that have been about exclusion and invisibility in order to grow as a country committed to deep diversity.
Presenting on Culture.
Yesterday I got word that I have been selected to present at the former Governor General Michaëlle Jean’s Power of the Arts Forum. I will be speaking on “THE CURATOR AS A 21ST CENTURY AGENT OF CHANGE: Assessing the role the institutional curator can play in facilitating deep cultural transformation in Canada.”
And it doesn’t end there! A few more wonderful initiatives are in the works. Canada’s Capital City is full of Change Agents and Cultural Provocateurs. I have been fortunate to join such a wonderful community of talent!
Jérôme Havre, Untitled (Hybrid Series), 2010, fabric, kapok. 75 cm tall. Photo: Paul Litherland. Image from Textile Museum.
I had two different experiences of Jérôme Havre’s work.
1. VIRTUAL EXPERIENCE
Images taken of a past exhibit showed a presentation that was unique in the way it utilized almost the entire square footage it occupied within the gallery space. A pattern in black and white had been painted onto the wall, wrapping the room and melting onto a grayed floor. I didn’t know what the pattern represented but I knew I loved it. The repetition was calming and invigorating at the same time.
Standing on pedestals (or as I later realized hovering slightly above them suspended from the ceiling) were these beautiful beings that you could tell had been handcrafted with colourful textiles that added more pattern to delight the eye. They were fashioned with lumps and bumps but also with feet so I got the sense that some hybrid being had emerged from the artist’s imagination.
Nothing immediately came to mind to compare them to but the entire effect of the patterned wall, free floating sculptures and pedestals that felt more like architectural remnants made for maximum impact!
I was excited to see the show at the Textile Museum so that I could get a sense of it all – up close and personal.
2. PHYSICAL EXPERIENCE
What I was looking forward to the most in seeing Jérôme’s work in the flesh was the experience of being enveloped by the install. I admire artists who know how to create an environment that makes me feel as though I am walking into a very different kind of space, one that catches me off guard – disarming me a little or provoking me a lot.
Heather Goodchild, installation view. Photo: Naomi Yasui. Image from the Textile Museum.
Fictions and Legends, that also includes the meticulous and stunning work of Heather Goodchild, did not disappoint! Immediately upon entering the exhibit you know you have walked into a show that is going to be a very different experience than one would expect at the Textile Museum or any other gallery for that matter.
The first room I walked into was wrapped with fabric on which Heather had painted symbols that felt religious and words that felt sacred. Thick curtains closed off secret spaces. Once inside those spaces I was met with rug hookings that seemed antique in their technique but the scenes depicted didn’t match the pastoral compositions you would expect. They felt foreboding – almost apocalyptic. The scene on the last rug before the entrance to Jérôme’s space made me particularly uncomfortable but I will come back to that.
I then stepped into the space that Jérôme had constructed. This room was devoid of the curtains that acted as barriers in Heather’s install. In fact, just like the images I saw online, everything was installed without obstructions.
I had yet to see all of Heather’s work so I left Jérôme’s area to enter into the final scenes she had created. This time, instead of textiles on the walls, porcelain figurines, bigger than dolls but smaller than life-size, were configured into scenes that read as vaguely Biblical, some sort of moral tale was being told even if I couldn’t call up an immediate reference as to who and what. The scenes, much like the rug hooking on the walls, were haunting. Some of the female figurines seemed to be committing dirty deeds done dirt cheap. As I overheard one person say Heather’s work contained “creatures we don’t understand and stories we don’t want to tell.”
Heather Goodchild, installation view. Photo: Naomi YasuiImage from the Textile Museum.
In all of the scenes Heather constructed there was an implied demarcation where the viewer was to stand, like an impotent witness.
Heather’s work was cloistered, staged and secretive; precious and breakable therefore untouchable. Her figures were stark white and clearly female with contrived faces with unbroken expressions; poses that were rigid and fixed.
When juxtaposed with Jérôme’s work I couldn’t help but feel that the two installs where pushing off each other with an intense force – in binary opposition.
For everything Heather’s work was Jérôme’s was not – out in the open and close enough to touch; made of fabric that was flexible enough to withstand impact. The hybrid beings referenced ‘blackness’ and their bricolage bodies were stitched together from fragments of nylon and cotton leftovers making them uneven and soft, although sturdy. They each hung suspended, turning slowly to animate the space. In Heather’s install there was silence. In Jérôme’s the sound of wild birds.
I didn’t recall, from my reading of the exhibit prior to entering, that it was meant to be an exhibit speaking on the subject of race but in this space, the realities of race seemed inescapable.
I returned many times trying to reach back to that first moment when I saw Jérôme’s work and had read it so differently.
My experience provoked me and I needed to get to the bottom of it. When I attended a LUFF Art + Dialogue’s Open Sesame Event discussing the Fictions & Legends show I entered into a room full of knowledgeable art professionals but it was a predominately white space. Jérôme was in attendance. Would he would let the cat out of the bag that the artist was present? Even if he didn’t it, the obvious elephant in the room was the fact that he was the one black male in a group of mostly white bodies. How would this fact impact the discussion?
Just prior to seeing Jérôme’s work I had attended the Vodou Exhibit at the Canadian Museum of Civilzation. In an effort to works towards better understanding of their spiritual practice, hopefully resulting in new found respect, members of the Haitian Vodou community in Montreal were involved in the organization of the show. As I walked through the exhibit though I wondered if people would be able to see (feel) past their preconceived notions. We grow up on a steady diet of stereotypes so much so that the unconscious must store those unsettling thoughts, maybe even keeping them under wraps, but they aren’t so buried that they can’t emerge in an unfortunate moment.
And just before the Vodou exhibit I had visited the National Gallery in Ottawa where part of Carrie Mae Weem’s From Here I Saw What Happened and I Cried was installed on a wall. On the four red tinted ethnographic daguerreotypes of black men and black women are the words:
You become a scientific profile,
a negroid type,
an anthropological debate,
a photographic subject.
In reviewing Jérôme’s work to sit down and write out my thoughts for this post I look again at one of the first images I saw of his work. I see something I hadn’t noticed before. A framed image hanging on the wall that reads:
When will we be just beautiful?
The Fact the lies in Fictions and Legends
In Fictions and Legends, the scene in the rug hooking that left me so unsettled was of a white female body lying on the ground with her back to the viewer. Overshadowing her body like a storm cloud is a black animal-like being, pressing itself into her skin.
In the Exhibition Overview I read:
“Both artists tease out our deepest collective cultural experiences, practices and beliefs by proposing evocative truths in the form of fictions and legends.”
For as far as humanity has come regarding race, in a mind’s deep recesses not consciously inhabited, what lies in opposition to whiteness is still blackness.
Fictions and Legends closes this weekend. Don’t miss a chance to experience this engaging exhibit without comparision!
We can feel the seasons changing! We welcome the spring and the Omushkegowuk Walkers from Attawapiskat First Nation to Parliament Hill today. If you missed being part of the welcoming party you can support them by attending the Potluck Farewell Feast at St. Andrew Presbyterian Church (across from the Supreme Court) at 5 pm on Wednesday evening. If you can provide food for this event please visit the Reclaiming our steps, past, present and future – Ottawa Facebook Event Page for contact details.
“A multitalented artist, poet, passionate advocate for the quest for knowledge through literature and music, YAO is comparable to a modern-day troubadour.
Although his music is characterized by a sweet mix of Slam poetry, Jazz and Blues, his eclectic approach and escapades in various musical genre gives it a rich, unique and very pleasant sound.” Read more…
FRIDAY: THE JERRY CANS + SAALI
Friday is The Jerry Cans & Saali at Zaphod Beeblebrox, 27 York Street.
“The Jerry Cans will take you on a stroll through Iqaluit, Nunavut with their unique mix of Inuktitut country swing, throat singing, reggae, and blues, sharing a glimpse of life in Nunavut while challenging misrepresentation of the great white north. Nunavuttitut! Nunavut Style!”
“The Winter Village Storytelling Festival & Meshkwadoon is a celebration of the First Peoples’ winter culture through artistic and oral traditions of the First Nations, Inuit and Métis People…Alongside these wonderful presentations will be some of Ottawa’s finest vendors showcasing both Aboriginal and non- aboriginal arts and crafts.”Read more…
Part of Sunday’s lineup is a performance by madeskimo.
Saturday, March 1st, 10am – 5pm & Sunday, March 2nd, 11am – 5pm
Individual Day Pass $5
Family Day Pass $12
Individual Weekend Pass $8
Family Weekend Pass $20
Children under 3 Free
Sowing the seeds of change in programming for youth.
All of us have a story or two about a moment that was magical and breathed life into the parts of our mind that weren’t aware that we could dream so big.
Ottawa based Anishinaabe artist Melody McKiver tells of her mother, as a teenager, meeting Daphne Odjig – one of Canada’s great artists. Her father had taken her to an exhibit in Dryden, in the mid-70s. That chance encounter, although short, was powerful and pivotal in her mother’s life because she never knew that a Native woman could aspire to what Daphne had become.
If you can’t locate yourself in the faces of the makers of culture it may be impossible for you to know that the light inside of you has the potential to shine bright. Which is why programs like Sakahàn Youth are so critical. We won’t understand the full generational impact of Sakahànon the Canadian cultural landscape for a long time but I don’t doubt it will be pivotal for this country.
LARA – “She was a young girl who had participated in the Sakahàn summer camp tours. I explained to the youth about “Āniwaniwa” and how a building that the community had a special connection to was overtaken by a flood. This flood was created by industry people in New Zealand who needed a hydro-electric dam to produce energy for the diamond mine they were putting in. She cried because I related it to losing Wabano Centre for Aboriginal Health or the Odawa Native Friendship Centre and having love for a building. [The loss of that building would mean] not being able to practice your culture or traditions or have community gatherings anymore “because, what if the Ottawa River covered it all?” like the Waikato River in Hora Hora did? It was an example of how much this can affect our next generation. The very next visit, she was explaining to a new summer camp youth about Brett Graham’s “Āniwaniwa” piece – she was confident and she wasn’t crying, she was participating and had learned a little piece of Indigenous history.”
Maori artist Brett Graham’s “Āniwaniwa” is one of the moving installations at the National Gallery that communicates, in an aesthetically stunning way, a painful memory. I doubt that there is a single work included at Sakahàn that doesn’t touch on deep pain but with 150 pieces by over 80 Indigenous artists from 16 countries it is clear that there is a growing global movement to express and explore the best way to communicate the legacy of trauma to audiences of all backgrounds.
While visiting Ottawa from New Zealand Brett Graham had a chance to lead a workshop with the summer camp kids. With incredible experiences like this, where the youth are up-close and personal with some of the leading international artists of our time, they get the chance to have many magical moments.
The spark created by Sakahàn will give our youth the chance to go on to create a new cultural legacy for this country. It’s going to be amazing to see the artistic fruits that these children grow.
As well as partnership programs with the Ottawa Aboriginal Coalition:
Sakahàn Youth Summer Camps
Concentric Circles – Artists stay at 3 local reserves (Kitigan Zibi, Pikwàkanagàn, Akwesasne) for 1 week
Sakahan School Programs – this program will continue past Sakahan’s closing date of Sept 2 into the school year.
More than several times a day my heartbreaks as I watch what comes through my Facebook feed, like today as more information regarding the children of Syria killed by chemical weapons punctuated a moment. In these Orwellian times when we discover that Big Brother is indeed watching the wonder of the internet and social media is that we are watching too. We participate in bearing witness.
The other stunning quality of social media is that for every story that crushes me and makes me weep there are double, even triple, stories of action and resistance that offer hope and inspiration.
For example, my feed also includes what’s happening right now at Canada’s major cultural institutions and auxiliary events and projects surrounding these exhibits. We have amazing curatorial teams that have produced shows that challenge the Chinese Government’s position on Human Rights, Canada’s policies on Aboriginal issues and the Economy of Oil, and global attitudes regarding the Environment.
My concern – do we walk away from these shows changed at a deep core level? Do we return to our daily lives radically motivated to stop being part of the problem and act in service of social justice and environmental causes? Will we change our level of comfort for the sake of stopping someone else’s pain or the loss of natural resources?
I pray that all the illumination will indeed cause a spiritual shift towards a tipping point that will alter the world. I want to see civilizations that are socially and environmentally just because today as children’s lives are ended by chemical warfare in Syria in this country Aboriginal women are being sold into the sex trade and the land along with the women is being violated.
It’s time to get radical folks.
What we experience in these exhibits can be our entry points into living with intention.
RECOMMENDED SHOWS THAT WILL CHANGE PERSPECTIVES:
Sakahàn@ The National Gallery, Ottawa on until Sept 2
“For centuries, colonialism has been the cause of suffering, oppression and violence perpetuated against Indigenous people in Canada and many other countries. But attributing the rise of resistance, activism and the associated art to colonialism itself is disingenuous. The destructive ideologies inherent in colonialism are manifest by the interactions of people. The events caused by these interactions change people and their societies. Indigenous art is not predicated on “colonialism,” but on the events that it causes…Ghost Dance examines the role of the artist as activist, as chronicler and as provocateur in the ongoing struggle for Indigenous rights and self-empowerment.”Steve Loft, more on RIC’s website
The True North strong and free where nature is cherished and everyone lives happily ever after (?)
This place country we call Canada is kind of a mixed bag. ‘Multiculturalism’ in theory sounds welcoming but in practice can be problematic and is often accompanied by language that renders people tongue-tied and inarticulate.
So it’s easy to leave the talking to logos, slogans, and flags or monuments commemorating memories that are more complex than snapshot on vacay allows. But if you are willing to listen the city speaks!
Why not take a tour right now? If you click on each of the images below you can find out more about the work that’s in the picture as well as the artists and how each piece deepens the dialogue of the narrative of this nation.
Mixed Bag Mag would like to thank all the Cultural Provocateurs encountered while in the Capital visiting the National Gallery’s exhibit Sakahàn and offsite partner events. When it came to food for thought you each provided an all-you-can-eat buffet and I appreciate the exchange of ideas.
Also it was a pleasure to meet one of the international Sakahàn artists’ Nicholas Galanin. Nicholas’ beautiful masks can be seen inside the exhibit but outside, for the next week or so, you can check out Nicholas carving out another commission at the back of the gallery right by Roxy Paine’s One Hundred Foot Line. Suggested donation for watching the performance of what I refer to as ‘artist chipping away’ – a double shot Americano.
Thanks as well to Amy from the UK for being the guinea pig upon which I practiced my tour guide abilities. And to my other bunk mate Candace – Welcome to Canada! May it be a wonderful new home for you!
Niigaan workshops use “blankets to represent the lands of what is now Canada, and the distinct cultures and nations which live on those lands to this day. Participants represent the First Peoples; when they step onto the blanket, they are taken back in time to the arrival of Europeans…the exercise goes through the history of treaty-making, colonization and resistance that resulted in the nation we today call Canada.”
“Anishinaabe prophecy tells of a time when two nations will join to make a mighty nation. These two nations are the original people of Turtle Island (today known as North America) and the settlers of this land. However, it is warned that this mighty peaceful nation will only be built if both nations choose the right path. We all must understand the history behind the current political and social relationship before we can begin the process of decolonization. The legal history includes the treaties of peace and friendship, the British North America Acts, Section 35 of the Canadian constitution, the Indian Act, and the legal duty to consult First Nations; all these agreements and legal documents influence our ability to go forward together on the right path. Our history is littered with forgotten events, either deliberately overlooked, or rationalized away somehow.” (cited from Niigaan’s website)
I was determined and praying to the Gods & Goddesses of Transport that they would remove all obstacles one may encounter when riding the TTC.
I made it. A little late but it was worth the sprint up to Fort York from Bathurst, camera bag and all.
What a stunning venue! The open air, the smell of the fires, the grass covered hills, old rock walls and the cityscape in behind. The context was beautiful but the visual juxtaposition points to an unfortunate history. The Honouring is:
“a site-specific multi-disciplinary performance honouring First Nations warriors of the War of 1812, featuring Onkwehonwe families who sacrificed to protect Haudenosaunee sovereignty, culture and land. Audiences have the opportunity to understand the complexity of the War of 1812 through the experiential lens of First Nations, offering a human face to our history. All First Nations took part in the War of 1812 as sovereign Nation allies to Britain.The Honouringpays homage to their personal sacrifices and belief in what was the best for their family, community and future generations.” More info…
Here’s a sampling of just how stunning the work of Kaha:wi is:
“Kaha:wi Dance Theatre (KDT) is one of Canada’s leading contemporary dance companies, recognized for its seamless fusing of indigenous and contemporary dance into a compelling signature choreographic vision.”Read more…
All of these organizations, programs, artists, and exhibitions work to dismantle the legacy of stereotypes that has stopped the dominant culture from seeing the dimensionality that we all carry within us as creative human beings as well as offer a critical voice regarding not only Canada’s First Peoples but Indigenous Peoples from around the world.
The below list focuses on Aboriginal arts in Canada and predominantly new media /visual artists. Stay tuned for a part two that will include much more!
ARTS ORGANIZATIONS AND GALLERIES THAT FOCUS ON CONTEMPORARY FIRST NATIONS, MÉTIS, INUIT & INDIGENOUS CULTURE
ImagineNATIVE Film & Media Festival (Toronto) “The imagineNATIVE Film + Media Arts Festival celebrates the latest works by Indigenous peoples at the forefront of innovation in film, video, radio, and new media. Each fall, imagineNATIVE presents a selection of the most compelling and distinctive Indigenous works from around the globe.”More info…
Planet Indigenus (Toronto)
“Since 2004, Planet Indigenus, in partnership with Brantford, Ontario’s Woodland Cultural Centre, has explored such ancestry and cultures through Indigenous artists. Through a 10-day, international, multidisciplinary arts festivals attended by over 700,000 people… Planet IndigenUS has raised public awareness, broken stereotypes and fostered a cross-cultural dialogue between Canadians.”More info…
Woodlands Cultural Centre (Brantford) “The Woodland Cultural Centre was established in October 1972 under the direction of the Association of Iroquois and Allied Indians upon the closure of the Mohawk Institute Residential School. The Centre originally began its focus on collecting research and artifacts to develop its library and museum collections.”More info…
Urban Shaman (Winnipeg) “Urban Shaman Contemporary Aboriginal Art is a nationally recognized leader in Aboriginal arts programming and one of the foremost venues and voices for Aboriginal art in Canada.”More info…
Grunt Gallery (Vancouver)
“Grunt is an artist-run centre founded in 1984 in Vancouver, BC, with a vision to be an international renowned artist-run centre furthering contemporary art practice. Through the exploration of our diverse Canadian cultural identity we offer innovative public programming in exhibitions, performances, artist talks, publications and special projects.” More info…
AbTec (Montreal) “AbTeC is a network of academics, artists and technologists whose goal is to define and share conceptual and practical tools that will allow us to create new, Aboriginally-determined territories within the web-pages, online games, and virtual environments that we call cyberspace.” More info…
CURRENT & RECENT EXHIBITIONS CONTEMPORARY FIRST NATIONS, MÉTIS, INUIT & INDIGENOUS CULTURE
Indigenous & Urban @ The Museum of Civilization (Ottawa) OPENING TODAY! “Live. Engaging. Diverse. Inspired and challenged by contemporary urban life,Canadian Indigenous artists address issues of identity and stereotypes through humorous and thought-provoking works. Indigenous and Urbanis a summer-long program featuring visual and media arts, music, dance, film, readings and interactive workshops.” More info…
IN THE FLESH (Ottawa)
“In the Flesh examines the hierarchical relationship between humans and animals within a cultural and museological context, and investigates colonial politics, as well as issues of gender as they relate to the mastery of the natural world…In the Flesh grants us visual access to nature while calling into question the politics of representation. As the guest catalogue essayist Ariel Smith notes: “With In the Flesh, the Ottawa Art Gallery participates in a city-wide indigenization of gallery spaces to coincide with the National Gallery of Canada’s Sakahàn: International Indigenous Art exhibition. This indigenization does not exist within a vacuum, and we must reflect on the ways in which these acts of claiming space respond to and are in conversation with both the current and historical politics of Indigenous cultural sovereignty.””More info…
Sakahàn: International Indigenous Art (Ottawa)
CURRENTLY RUNNING UNTIL SEPT 2, 2013 “Sakahàn—meaning “to light [a fire]” in the language of the Algonquin peoples—brings together more than 150 works of recent Indigenous art by over 80 artists from 16 countries, celebrating the National Gallery’s ongoing commitment to the study and appreciation of Indigenous art. This exhibition is the first in an ongoing series of surveys of Indigenous art. The artworks in Sakahàn provide diverse responses to what it means to be Indigenous today. Through their works, the artists engage with ideas of self-representation to question colonial narratives and present parallel histories; place value on the handmade; explore relationships between the spiritual, the uncanny and the everyday; and put forward highly personal responses to the impact of social and cultural trauma. The artworks range from video installations to sculptures, drawings, prints, paintings, performance art, murals and other new, site-specific projects created specifically for this exhibition.”More info…
“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” More Info…
Beat Nation (Toronto) 2013 “Beat Nation describes a generation of artists who juxtapose urban youth culture with Aboriginal identity to create innovative and unexpected new works that reflect the current realities of Aboriginal peoples today. ”More info…
Fashionality @ The McMichael (Kleinberg) 2012 “Fashionality” is a newly coined term that refers to the visual culture and semiotics of dress and adornment. Combining the words “fashion,” “personality,” and “nationality,” it reflects the interplay between clothing, identity, and culture.”More info…
Poster for Fashionality featuring the work of KC Adams.
Not So Fast | NSF (Toronto) 2012 “Objects tell a story and reveal a history through the way they are made. In the current state of late-capitalism, value is often measured in terms of speed and efficiency. NOT SO FAST | NSFinvites a reconsideration of time and place to present different kinds of value. This exhibition brings together works by seven Indigenous artists who address the many products and by-products of consumer society.”More info…
2012 “In aboDIGITAL, Mi’kmaw artist Jordan Bennett examines the interface of audio-visual technologies and the internet with his First Nations heritage. Bennett’s art deftly blends such seemingly disparate elements as Mi’kmaq worldview, hip hop culture, ceremonial practice and graffiti aesthetics, creating dynamic works that express the fluidity, vitality and continuity of Aboriginal cultures in the present.” More info…
Decolonize Me (Ottawa) 2011 “Decolonize Me features six contemporary Aboriginal artists whose works challenge, interrogate and reveal Canada’s long history of colonization in daring and innovative ways. Deliberately riffing on the title of Morgan Spurlock’s film, the pop-cultural phenomenon Super Size Me (2004), the exhibition’s title emphasizes the importance of recognizing the role of the individual within larger discussions of shared colonial histories and present-day cultural politics.” More info…
Inuit Modern @ The AGO (Toronto) 2011
“The exhibition considers how the Inuit have coped with and responded to the swift transition from a traditional lifestyle to one marked by the disturbing complexities of globalization and climate change.” More info…
& The Inuit Modern Symposium
“Inuit artists and thinkers reflected on this statement during a three-part online symposium... It explored the questions: What are the current issues affecting Inuit art today and how has modernity complicated life in Canada’s far North? How has Inuit art changed the way that Canada and Inuit are viewed internationally?”More on…
Close Encounters: The Next 500 Years 2011 “A banner project for Winnipeg Cultural Capital of Canada 2010 Program comprised of a large-scale exhibition focused on presenting Indigenous art from around the world. This is an incredibly important show, featuring the work of a number of renowned Canadian Indigenous artists, complemented by some of the most innovative and engaging work drawn from Indigenous populations across the globe” More info…
The content on MIXED BAG MAG is about exploring the possibilities of what a new cultural landscape could look like in Canada. The people in projects listed above are our contemporary storytellers that are assembling an inspired mythology that has as its centre core values regarding the protection of our peoples and our environment.
Aboriginal cultural provocateurs are playing a key role in compelling Canadians to re-think identity and the national narrative.
The one thing I love about living above the 49th parallel is the experience of seasons. Although the fall represents the dying away of the fruits of summer and points towards the contemplative mood of winter, with winter comes the promise of spring’s rebirth and new opportunities for growth. The symbolism is simple but profoundly significant.
A trek north with the chance to leave the concrete jungle of urban Toronto was rewarded by arriving in the Ottawa area at the peak of autumn’s technicolour display augmented by the light of shifting stormy skies. Sometimes you need to get out of the city to see a new view – literally and metaphorically.
French-Canadian artist Joe Fafard’s “Running Horses” sculpture outside the National Gallery.
The purpose of the trip was also to start research into a series of articles that will be featured on MIXED BAG MAG regarding “Curating Identity” so some trips to the National Gallery as well as the Museum of Civilization were on the agenda.
During this time I was also trying (unsuccessfully) to work through French cultural theorist Michel Foucault’s“The Archaeology of Knowledge” because as Foucault proposed the way that we organize, categorize and structure information explains a lot about our worldviews when we dig down into the layers.
“The Description of Statements”
After my first visit to the National Gallery I realized that somehow I missed coming across the Inuit Collection. Upon my second visit I almost missed it again. I circled back around the Contemporary Canadian Collection on the First Floor to try to find what I was looking for as I passed by numerous Groups of Sevens and Michael Snows. Finally I gave in and just asked.
“Where is the Contemporary Inuit Collection?”
The guard didn’t seem to get what I was saying about “contemporary”.
“You mean the Inuit Collection?”
“Yes, but is there a separate contemporary section like here in this section, you know, current work”
“Dunno, but the Inuit Collection is down in the dungeon”
and he pointed to sets of descending stairs.
As much as I adore Moshe Safdie’s architecture somehow in the design the Inuit Collection got relegated to what a National Gallery employee referred to as the “dungeon” in the final structure.
Unfortunately this is telling. The symbolism of the statement, most likely not deliberate or intentionally demeaning, represents a sticky problem with regards to Canadian identity. There is a thorny mess that we can get into when cultural biases that are long due to die away have yet to go through their winter of contemplation.
During the trip I met up with Zimbabwean artist and educator Chiko Chazunguza to discuss, among other things, the hot topic – identity in the visual arts. He shared with me this story. Once, in a class he was teaching back in Zimbabwe, he asked a group of black students to draw portraits. The faces these young African artists depicted were all white. Again – unfortunately telling. How do we begin to structure knowledge so that we build a world where all of us are able to see our own faces reflected back positively?
Haida artist Bill Reid’s “Spirit of Haida Gwaii” sculpture inside the Museum of Civilization.
“The Museum is the Medium”
After a workshop at OCAD U on Marshall McLuhan I had a quick discussion with a visiting professor’s presentation on how a museum can be the medium. As an example he described the Museum to the Holocaust in the Jewish Museum, Berlin and its encompassing of a void space of silence with little light. The physical structure of a museum, its internal layout, its contents (or lack of contents) as well as the taxonomy of its collections becomes in itself the medium that delivers the message of that institution’s normatives.
“The criteria of epistemes can be defined through what or whom they exclude or disqualify” ~ Michel Foucault
The Museum of Civilization has a beautiful and substantial collection of Aboriginal artifacts but with a contemporary art section making only a brief appearance at the tail end the feeling I was left with was that perhaps there is still a national episteme that First Nations, Inuit and Métis cultures are buried back in the past with weak relevance to the contemporary Canadian context although their current retrospective exhibit of Métis artist Bob Boyer’s work (curated by Lee Ann Martin) is a step in a progressive direction. This engaging exhibit confirms that there are curators (and even institutions) out there that are eager to redress this issue.