FINA 160 Canadian + Aboriginal Art History

FINA 160 Canadian + Aboriginal Art History
Module 1 Colonialism, belonging and what is Aboriginal?
Within a museum setting, objects are put on display to tell us about the larger
narratives: who we are, where we come from and where we are going. Yet our
understanding of history, culture and identity constantly shifts over time.
Consistent with this constantly shifting over time is how change is an inherent
part of tradition.
Though museums would deny they are political institutions it is clear that they are
rooted in colonial practices- making them political spaces. Museums mandates
are – to collect, to preserve, to interpret and to educate. This automatically sets
up a power hierarchy as the museum decides what to collect, exhibit and how the
cultural objects are to be defined. They are creating meaning that may or may
not be in line with the objects or cultures on display.
“In a multicultural society there cannot be a definition of culture as a finite
body of knowledge shared by all members of a culture.” – McLoughlin p1
Dominance here- of the settler over the Aboriginal- meant a monopoly of
‘knowledge over ignorance’. Yet the museum presents a neutral, authorless and
educational experience.
“Marginalization in the museum setting is accomplished by the erection of
barriers which demarcate the distance between the exhibited and the
exhibitor: the creation of the Other. The Colonial Other is that which is
not self-defining: he or she exists in opposition to those who have the
power to construct and enforce boundaries of race, gender, and ethnicity.
The Other is marked by difference—in location, time, colour, custom,
history or gender. It is not a difference that is defined by characteristics of
its own identity or subjectivity (in other words, by its femaleness,
blackness, or Indianness), but by absence; by its not being male, white or
First World. Fixed as the subaltern in seemingly inescapable binaries
(tradition/progress, past/present, spirituality/rationality, myth/science,
craft/art), the Other is at one and the same time inferior (for they are
marked by lack) and threatening. His or her presence outside those
boundaries is a continued reminder of possible vulnerability.” McLoughlin
Contemporary First Nations artists do not forsake the past as they choose to
bring in the present at will. This means they stay relevant in today’s societymaking new relationships with new viewers while continuing to comment on
injustices of the past.
Exhibitions are constructs or representations to garner confidence by the viewer
that the museums are neutral spaces. Many First Nations (Aboriginal)
communities would not agree that any object within a museum is neutral but far
from it. The act of collecting cultural objects is in reality allowing the museum to
create the sense of the Other- the primitive that cannot withstand assimilation
into the Euro-Canadian society. We must be aware when entering museums they
are not objective and authorless- they are creating a narrative for us.
The museum age is considered to be between 1875 and 1925 where
commissioned collectors and those seeking enumeration for cultural objectsanything and everything associated with traditional culture. This acquiring of
anthropological artifacts was due to the belief system that Aboriginals were a
dying breed and could not withstand assimilation into the Euro-Canadian settlers’
Though museums are appointed keepers of other people’s material and are selfappointed interpreters of others’ histories- creating the Other, they are
encountering increased resistance. This is occurring due to awareness, critical
thinking and research in post-colonial theory.
It is always very important to carefully examine someone’s motives in
communicating. Whenever reading something, ask yourself, ‘what are the
authors motivations? Why did he/she choose to devote a great deal of time and
effort to one particular thing in exclusion of others?’
On this post card, the red coated Mountie smiles warmly as he reaches out to
shake hands with Chief Sitting Eagle who is dressed in a colourful feather
headdress, buckskins and beads. There is a caption on the postcard that reads,
“Here indeed are the symbols of Canada’s glorious past. A Mountie, resplendent
in his famed scarlet greets the Chief Sitting Eagle, one of Canada’s most
colourful Indians”. This image of reconciliation and equality, presented in such a
picturesque manner, invokes an older mythology of Canadian identity which
Academic specialist Eva Mackey calls “Benevolent Mountie Myth”, a myth based
on the story of the Westward expansion of the nation at the end of the nineteenth
century. The RCMP, representatives of British North American justice, are said
to have managed the inevitable and glorious expansion of the nation (and the
subjugation of Native peoples) with much less bloodshed and more benevolence
and tolerance then the violent US expansion to the South. This benevolent
gentleness, it was believed, was a result of naturally superior forms of British
justice, and was an important element in the mythologies of Canadian national
identity emerging at the turn of the century.
The image of the Mountie and the ‘Indian Chief’ places a representative of the
state and a representative of minority culture – colonizer and colonized – in a
friendly, peaceful collaborative pose. Represented as if they are equal. This is
very different then the images of the American cowboys chasing and killing
‘Indians’. The cowboys as rugged individuals in contrast to Mounties as
representatives of the kind and benevolent state – the state that supposedly
treated, and still treats, its minorities more compassionately than the USA.
Multiculturalism frames Canada’s policy in official government ideology as ‘a
fundamental characteristic of Canadian heritage and identity’. The cultural
mosaic vs. the cultural melting pot of the USA.
In the 1980’s there began a bit of a crisis in feminist and post modernist critiques
so that academics were forced to grapple with historical and present-day issues
of colonialism, imperialism and power. This lead to the exploration of how
dominant forms of culture was constructed.
In this mass-media age of Dancing with Wolves, of O.J. Simpson, of affirmative
action programmes, and of the ‘multicultural marketing’ seen in most
advertisements, taking apart multi-cultural tolerance is important not just in
Canada, but on a broader scale. In the ‘global marketplace’, television screens,
advertising, literature, popular culture and academia are now filled with complex
and contradictory images of pluralism, images that do not simply erase
difference, but often highlight and celebrate particular forms of diversity.
Meanwhile the hegemony of the market becomes stronger, the ‘white backlash’
grows louder, and the marginalized populations have fewer choices. The
important question in this context is not ‘How does dominant power erase
difference?’ but rather, ‘How might we map the ways in which dominant power
maintains their grip despite globalization’?
First Nations art encompasses many forms – including the traditional arts,
ceremonial or religious arts, utilitarian arts, art produced for the tourist market, as
well as the contemporary or fine arts. Throughout the course we will continue to
explore current trends and recent developments in First Nations art.
Norval Morrisseau
Norval Morrisseau, also known as Copper Thunderbird, was an Aboriginal
Canadian artist. Known as the “Picasso of the North”, Morrisseau created works
depicting the legends of his people, the cultural and political tensions between
native Canadian and European traditions, his existential struggles, and his deep
spirituality and mysticism. His style is characterized by thick black outlines and
bright colors. He founded the Woodlands School of Canadian art and was a
prominent member of the “Indian Group of Seven”.
An Anishinaabe, he was born March 14, 1932 on the Sand Point Ojibway reserve
near Beardmore, Ontario.
In accordance with Anishnaabe tradition- his maternal grandparents raised him.
His grandfather, Moses Potan Nanakonagos, a shaman, taught him the traditions
and legends of his people. His grandmother, Grace Theresa Potan
Nanakonagos, was a devout Catholic and from her he learned the tenets of
Christianity. The contrast between these two religious traditions became an
important factor in his intellectual and artistic development.
At the age of six, he was sent to a Catholic residential school, where students
were educated in the European tradition, native culture was repressed, and the
use of native language was forbidden. After two years he returned home and
started attending a local community school.
At the age of 19, he became very sick. He was taken to a doctor but his health
kept deteriorating. Fearing for his life, his mother called a medicine-woman who
performed a renaming ceremony: She gave him the new name Copper
Thunderbird. According to Anishnaabe tradition, giving a powerful name to a
dying person can give them new energy and save their lives. Morrisseau
recovered after the ceremony and from then on always signed his works with his
new name.
After being invited to meet the artist by Robert Sheppard, an early advocate of
Morrisseau was the anthropologist Selwyn Dewdney, who became very
interested in Morrisseau’s deep knowledge of native culture and myth. Dewdney
was the first to take his art to a wider public.
Jack Pollock, a Toronto art dealer, helped expose Morrisseau’s art to a wider
audience in the 1960s. The two met in 1962 while Pollock was teaching a
painting workshop in Beardmore. Struck by the discovery of Morrisseau’s art, he
immediately organized an exhibition of his work at his Toronto gallery.
One of Morrisseau’s early commissions was for a large mural in the Indians of
Canada Pavilion at Expo 67, a revolutionary exhibit voicing the dissatisfaction of
the First Nations People of Canada with their social and political situation.
In 1972, he was caught in a hotel fire in Vancouver and suffered serious burns on
three-quarters of his body. In that occasion he had a vision of Jesus encouraging
him to be a role model through his art. He converted to the apostolic faith and
started introducing Christian themes in his art.
In 1978, he was made a Member of the Order of Canada.
In 2005 and 2006, the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa organized a
retrospective of his work. This was the first time that the Gallery dedicated a solo
exposition to a native artist.
In his final months of his life, the artist used a wheelchair and lived in a residence
in Nanaimo, British Columbia. He was unable to paint due to his poor health. He
died of cardiac arrest—complications arising from Parkinson’s disease on
December 4, 2007 in Toronto General Hospital.
Norval Morrisseau was honoured with a posthumous Lifetime Achievement
Award during the NAAF Awards held at the Sony Centre in Toronto on March 22,
Morrisseau was a self-taught artist. He developed his own techniques and artistic
vocabulary, which captured ancient legends and images that came to him in
visions or dreams. The native community originally criticized him because his
images disclosed traditional spiritual knowledge. Initially he painted on any
material that he could find, especially birch bark, and also moose hide. Dewdney
encouraged him to use earth-tone colors and traditional material, which he
thought were appropriate to Morrisseau’s native style.
The subjects of his art in the early period were myths and traditions of the
Anishnaabe people. He is acknowledged to have initiated the Woodland School
of native art, where images similar to the petroglyphs of the Great Lakes region
were now captured in paintings and prints.
His later style changed: he used more standard material and the colors became
progressively brighter, eventually obtaining a neon-like brilliance. The themes
also moved from traditional myth to depicting his personal struggles. He also
produced art depicting Christian subjects: during his incarceration, he attended a
local church where he was struck by the beauty of the images on stained-glass
windows. Some of his paintings, like Indian Jesus Christ, imitate that style and
represent characters from the Bible with native features.
Daphne Odijig
Daphne was born in Wikwemikong, on Manitoulin Island, Ontario. Coming from a
native background – Potawatomi and Odawa – she was proud of the art and
culture of her ancestors. Her artistic side ran in the family, with a grandfather who
was into carving, sketching and painting and a father who painted and was a
talented musician, the apple did not fall far from the tree.
Daphne grew up on a dairy farm along with three siblings. She had dreams of
becoming a teacher, but got sick with rheumatic fever and was forced to miss
school. She was upset about this at the time, however it proved fortunate
because while at home she was able to get to know her mother and grandfather,
who both passed away when she was 18. Soon after her loss, she left
Wikiwemikong for Parry Sound, Ontario.
Daphne changed her last name to “fisher” (an old English translation of Odjig)
because of some racism she experienced in Parry Sound. Then, during World
War II, she relocated to Toronto for work. It was here that she met her first
husband, Paul Somerville. Paul was moved to the West Coast for military duty
and this is where Daphne raised their two sons.
It was only once that her boys were in school that she was able to focus on her
painting. Her first works were very realistic due in part to the instruction of her
teachers. However she soon began to experiment with other styles of painting
including cubism, realism and expressionism. She visited many art galleries and
studied art books to study other artists and their work; her paintings dealt with a
variety of themes including human suffering, relationships, culture and
importance of family.
In the 1960’s, Daphne was encouraged by her sister in law to paint scenes from
Manitoulin mythology. She also began to focus on writing and illustrating several
children’s books based on Ojibwa culture. Her work helped bring light to many
people who knew little about Native culture at the time.
In 1972 Daphne’s work was put on display at a Winnipeg art gallery. This
exhibition featured her and two other noted artists work. This was a very
important exhibition because it was the first time that Native artists were featured
in an Art Gallery. By 1973, she co-founded the Professional Native Indian Artists
Association – again helping to bring light to Native art and culture.
By 1976, they had moved back to British Columbia, near Lake Shuswap. It was
here that she was commissioned to paint a 4-part mural ‘The Indian In
Transition’. With this piece she was able to express her true emotions and some
human truths.
Kenojuak Ashevak
Kenojuak is the most revered Inuit artist living in Canada today. Her imaginative
drawings, prints and carvings are sought the world over and reflect her
experiences and life in the North. “Drawing out of your imagination is a lot better
to me anyway. What you see in your head is what you try to put on drawing…I try
to make mine look attractive enough.” While her imagery is varied, she is best
known for her eloquently designed animals and birds, especially the Owl.
Like many Cape Dorset artists, Kenojuak spent most of her life living on the land
in a manner not unlike that of her ancestors. Born at the south Baffin Island camp
known as Ikirisaq in the fall of 1927, she grew up travelling from camp to camp
on south Baffin and Arctic Quebec. Her family was hunters and trappers and
moved from place to place depending on the availability of food. She lived in an
igloo icehouse during the winter while travelling, but preferred the humuq or
winterized tent, which was insulated with moss and heated with a kudlik or stone
lamp that burned seal oil.
As a very young woman, Kenojuak was married to Johnniebo and lived with him
in various camps including Keakto, a scenic area of rolling hills and inland lakes
near Cape Dorset. While living at Keakto in the late 1950s, both Kenojuak and
Johnniebo first experimented with carving in stone and drawing when
encouraged by James Houston, the Federal Government’s administrator for the
area. They moved to Cape Dorset in 1966 to be nearer schools for their children
and continued to work closely together until Johnniebo’s untimely death in 1972.
Kenojuak and her children still live and work in Cape Dorset, Northwest
Kenojuak’s work has been represented in the West Baffin Eskimo Cooperative ‘s
annual print collection since 1959 and has been shown in numerous exhibitions
in Canada, the United States and in Europe since that time. Her work has been
included in many private and public collections and she has received several
special commissions including this latest “Radiant Owl” edition for the Artists For
Kids Trust.
Alex Janvier
Born of Dene Suline and Saulteaux descent in 1935, Alex Janvier was raised in
the nurturing care of his family until the age of eight. At this age, the young
Janvier was uprooted from his home and sent to the Blue Quills Indian
Residential School near St. Paul, Alberta. Although Janvier speaks of having a
creative instinct from as far back as he can remember, it was at the residential
school that he was given the tools to create his first paintings. Unlike many
aboriginal artists of his time, Janvier received formal art training from the Alberta
College of Art in Calgary and graduated with honours in 1960. Immediately after
graduation, Janvier took up an opportunity to instruct art at the University of
Alex Janvier has been painting for over 40 years and has created a unique style,
his own “visual language,” informed by the rich cultural and spiritual traditions
and heritage of the Dene in northern Alberta. Alex Janvier was born on Le Goff
Reserve, Cold Lake First Nations, northern Alberta in 1935. At the age of eight,
he was sent to the Blue Quills Residential Indian School near St. Paul, Alberta,
where the principal recognized his innate artistic talent and encouraged him in
his art. Mr. Janvier received formal art training from the Alberta Institute of
Technology and Art in Calgary (now the Alberta College of Art and Design) and
graduated with honours in 1960. In 1966, the federal Department of Indian and
Northern Affairs commissioned him to produce 80 paintings. He helped bring
together a group of artists for the Indians of Canada Pavilion at Expo ‘67, among
them Norval Morrisseau and Bill Reid. In recent years, flowing, curvilinear lines
and more abstraction have characterized his work. His unique language has
made its mark, cementing his legacy as one of the country’s foremost painters.
Alex Janvier lives in Cold Lake, Alberta.
The title Morning Star refers to the morning star as a guide or a means of finding
direction. Janvier explains:
“My people had used the morning star as a guide light in the early mornings of
the winter hours. They would leave camp… maybe 4 o’clock in the morning and
head in some direction… According to the stars in the sky, and especially that
one, they pretty well have an idea the direction that they are going to.”
Janvier similarly views his painting as a guiding light.
Features included in the painting reflect common aboriginal values and
philosophies. The circle motif represents the circle of life: spiritual and physical,
human and natural. Human life, for example, is believed to make a complete
circle; a person dies and then life starts again. Likewise, the colours used are
meaningful. Among the Chipewyan for example, white, yellow, blue and red are
significant colours, seen more frequently than others. Among Native groups
generally, these colours are often seen in regalia. In addition, the creation of four
distinct areas of colour is important. The number four is significant for Native
Peoples: 4 seasons, 4 cardinal points, and 4 directions. Janvier refers to these as
“natural indicators”.
The painting is a commentary on the clash of cultures that took place after
Europeans arrived in North America and encountered Native peoples. This is one
of the major themes addressed in the Museum’s permanent exhibitions.
The white central circle represents the morning star, the source of all creation.
The geometric lines of colour radiating out from the centre (similar to the
porcupine quillwork traditionally used by the Dene to decorate clothing and other
objects) represent the various aboriginal cultures; each is a separate colour yet,
when viewed together, they have the appearance of unity. That ring, representing
the Native value system, is juxtaposed with a ring of more organic forms,
representing the appearance of European ideas and beliefs. The juxtaposition of
geometric and organic symbolizes the struggle between the two value systems.
Each of the four distinct areas of colour in the outside ring represents a period in
Native history
In the yellow quadrant, a balance of colour and shape reflects a time when the
First Peoples were in harmony with nature, with the Great Spirit, and with each
other. However, also represented in this yellow area is the arrival of Columbus in
1492, which changed the world of the First Peoples forever.
In the blue quadrant, a lack of decoration signifies the weakness of Native
culture, overwhelmed by European culture. According to Janvier, the more
Christianized Native people became, the more they turned to organic, flowing
designs and the less they produced geometric designs.
The red quadrant depicts a time of revival and a new optimism. Struggle and
disenchantment give way to a new determination on the part of First Peoples to
take charge of their own future.
The last quadrant, white to link back to the white centre of Morning Star, portrays
healing, renewed self-respect, reconciliation and restructuring – a return to a state
of harmony. It represents the period following the point at which Janvier created
Morning Star.
Of Morning Star, and of his work in general, Janvier has said, “I am painting and I
am also telling the story of the way things happened to me and to my tribe and to
my people and it’s a true story.”
Morning Star was a gift of Ralph and Roz Halbert of Toronto, Ontario, to the
people of Canada.
Janvier is hopeful about the future of aboriginal culture and art, noting that many
people are recovering traditional values and practices. According to Janvier,
belief in Mother Earth and the Great Spirit is the basis upon which future
generations can reclaim true spirituality and freedom as aboriginal people.
“Janvier’s calligraphic lines are always in motion, recalling natural phenomena
like the motion of branches in the wind. The symbolism he ascribes to color is
that of the Dene. And his compositions which often flow outward from the centre
in four directions, refer to the four cardinal points of the native cosmos, the points
of the compass, and the seasons.” Nancy Tousley, art critic, Calgary Herald
Carl Beam
Carl Beam was born Carl Edward Migwans on May 24, 1943, in M’Chigeeng First
Nation. His mother, Barbara Migwans was the Ojibwe daughter of Dominic
Migwans who was then the Chief of the Ojibways of West Bay (later renamed
M’Chigeeng First Nation). “The Beam family’s true name derives from miigwaans
which means little feather or bird. He was raised by his grandparents Dominic
and Annie for most of his young life. His exceptional qualities were observed by
his elders at a young age, and he was given the name “Ahkideh”, from aakode’
meaning “one who is brave” in the Ojibwe language.” He was sent to Garnier
Residential School, in Spanish, Ontario, from the age of ten until he left as a
young man.
After working at a variety of jobs, from construction work on the Toronto Subway,
to working as a millwright in Wawa, Ontario, Beam entered Kootenay School of
Art (1971). He went on to earn a Bachelor of Fine Arts from the University of
Victoria in 1974, and entered into post-graduate studies at the University of
Alberta, (1975–76). He left the University of Alberta over a dispute about his
thesis on native art, and returned to Ontario.
The direction of Carl Beam’s visual style was firmly established by the late
seventies. In 1979 Beam met and married his wife, Ann Beam. “In developing his
work over the years, Beam has been accompanied by his wife, Ann, herself and
artist and a former teacher at the Art Gallery of Ontario. Often they have worked
as collaborators”. At this time he incorporated multiple photographic images onto
a single picture plane. “He disregarded the illusory deep space of Renaissance
depiction, in favour of a flat tableau, where a dialogue of multiple images could
take place”. At this time his photographic imagery was achieved primarily via
screen process, photo etching, Polaroid instant prints, and a solvent transfer
technique also used by Robert Rauschenberg.
The family moved to Peterborough, Ontario, and in 1984, Beam was
commissioned to make an artwork for the Thunder Bay Art Gallery. Living in the
east end of Peterborough, Ontario, Beam created an early set of large format
etchings, consisting of nine prints. There are many signature images in this print
collection, which Beam later used to form the image backbone of his iconic work
The North American Iceberg. This work was purchased by the National Gallery of
Canada, making Beam the first artist of Native ancestry to have his work
purchased into the permanent collection of the National Gallery of Canada as
contemporary art.
His last body of work was in process until the time of his passing in 2005. Robert
Johnson titled it Crossroads from the blues song. The work included images of
pop stars, gangsters, scientists, native leaders, politicians, writers and poets,
musicians (Robert Johnson, Bob Dylan, Marilyn Manson, Jerry Garcia, Britney
Spears, John Lennon), TV personalities (Martha Stewart), animals, and birds. He
had completed Plexiglas works, and 22″x30″ paper works for Crossroads and
was in the middle of a suite of etchings at the time of his passing. Carl Beam
received the Governor General’s Award for Excellence in Visual and Media Art in
Jackson Beardy
Jackson Beardy’s life began on July 24, 1944 on Garden Hill First Nation, an OjiCree community on the shores of Island Lake in northeastern Manitoba. Forty
years later, on Dec. 7, 1984, it came to an end.

The fifth child of 13 born to John Beardy and Dinah Monias, Jackson was given a
special task at a very young age. He would live with his grandmother, his father’s
mother, and learn from her the traditional stories of the Cree people. But his
education in legend and tradition was cut short when he turned seven and
government policy of the time demanded he go away to residential school.
Beardy attended Portage Indian school in Portage la Prairie, 50 km west of
Winnipeg and hundreds of kilometres away from home.

He spoke no English when he arrived at residential school-only Cree and that
was forbidden, as were many of the traditions that had up to now been a way of
life for Beardy and his classmates. Beardy learned to speak, read and write
English, but the more he learned to meet the demands placed on him to adopt
white ways, the more disconnected he became to his Native heritage and the
things his grandmother had worked so hard to instill in him.

But while his residential school experiences slowly chipped away at Beardy’s
connection to his culture, they also opened up doors for the young student that
allowed him to hone his artistic talents.

Beardy attended the Technical Vocational school in Winnipeg from 1963 to 1964,
where he studied commercial art. He finished the course, but without experience,
couldn’t find work. He began to create art- reconnecting with the stories his
grandmother had passed on to him in his childhood, combining them with the art
techniques he had learned, capturing the resulting mix in paint on canvas. He
worked for a time in the display department of the Simpson Sears department
store in Winnipeg, but lost the job when health problems began to plague him.
Beardy had begun to drink after leaving residential school-one of the ways he
tried to cope with the feelings of isolation that he felt-and he soon developed
ulcers. Problems related to his drinking would plague him for another decade,
until he gave up alcohol in 1974. The ulcers would continue to be a problem for
the remainder of his life.

Beardy was hospitalized for the ulcers and after his release; he decided to return
home to Garden Hill reserve. His homecoming wasn’t all he had hoped it would
be. He was seen more as an outsider than as a member of the community
returned, a view that was strengthened by the art he produced. The images
Beardy created in his work were taken from oral tradition, and many people were
not receptive about capturing them in a visual form.

Beardy had his first art exhibit in 1965 at the Winnipeg Art Gallery. In 1966 he
took some art classes at the School of Fine Arts at the University of Manitoba. In
1967 he went to Montreal as a consultant for the Canadian Indian Pavilion at
Expo ’67. He received commissions to produce works of art to commemorate
both Canada’s centennial in 1967 and Manitoba’s centennial in 1970.

It was in 1970 when one event presented Beardy with both a great
accomplishment and a bitter disappointment, and illustrated the struggle Native
artists faced in their attempts to be recognized and respected.

One of the highlights of Beardy’s artistic career was his involvement in the
exhibition Treaty Numbers 23, 287 and 1171, in which his work was featured
alongside that of Daphne Odjig and Alex Janvier. The exhibit, held at the
Winnipeg Art Gallery in 1972, marked a movement toward having the work of
Native artists showcased in art galleries rather than museums, a sign that their
art was finally making the jump from being appreciated for its anthropological
merit to being viewed as true art. That same year, Beardy was awarded the
Canadian Centennial Medal.

Beardy was one member of a group of Native artists who formed the
Professional Native Indian Artists Association, better known as the “Indian Group
of Seven.” Beardy, along with fellow group members Daphne Odjig, Alex Janvier,
Norval Morrisseau, Carl Ray, Joseph Sanchez and Eddy Cobiness, worked to
promote Native control of Native art and to change the way the world looked at
Native art, shifting the emphasis from the “Nativeness” of the art to it’s artistic
merits. Like other members of the group, Beardy’s work is categorized as being
part of the New Woodland school, a style of art characterized by its use of black
outlining, blocks of pure, undiluted color and X-ray views. –

Beardy drew inspiration from much of his artwork from the stories of his people,
translating myths and legends from the oral tradition into the visual, presenting
his interpretation of the stories through paintings and prints, rendering the images
on canvas, birch bark or beaver skins. While capturing the essence of the stories
he had learned as a young child and relearned as an adult, Beardy’s work
reflected traditional Native viewpoints about the interconnectedness of the
In the early 1980s, Beardy was living in Ottawa, acting as art advisor and cultural
consultant to the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development, which
took up much of the time he would have normally been spending on his art. In
1984, he left Ottawa and returned home to Winnipeg, where he began work on a
new series of prints. In mid-November, Beardy suffered a heart attack. He
recovered, but an infection set in a few weeks later and he died.
Rebecca Belmore
Ojibway, Rebecca was born in Upsala Ontario 1960. She currently resides and
works in Vancouver.
Her 4 ½ minute video called The Blanket shows a dark –haired woman wrapping
and unwrapping herself in a red and black Hudson’s Bay point blanket while she
moves about a snow-covered Manitoba landscape. The video is not without a
sense of anger (the blanket has a poisonous history in relations between white
and native Canadians), but The Blanket is also lyric, elegant and sensuous. She
works within narratives of resistance and imposed accommodation and the
adaptation and self-directed transformation.
Brian Jungen
Brian Jungen was born in 1970 on a family farm north of Fort St. John, British
Columbia. His father was Swiss born and immigrated to British Columbia with his
family when he was three years old. Jungen’s mother was Aboriginal, a member
of the Dane-zaa Nation. Jungen was seven years old when both his parents
perished in a fire. After which his fathers’ sister and her husband raised him.
Jungen recalls his mother’s ability to adapt objects to new uses, something he
now famously does within his artistic practice. He recalls, “She was constantly
trying to extend the life of things, packages, utensils. Once we had to use the
back end of a pickup truck as an extension for our hog pen.”
In 1988 he moved to Vancouver to attend the Emily Carr Institute of Art and
Design. He graduated four years later with a Diploma of Visual Art. After which
he moved to Montreal and New York City prior to returning to Vancouver.
In 1998 he took part in a self-directed residency at The Banff Centre for the Arts,
Banff, Alberta. This residency would become the tipping point in his career. As it
was there that he began to work on his now famous Prototypes for New
Understanding (1998-2005); a series of sculptures he created by disassembling
and reassembling Nike Air Jordan sneakers to resemble Northwest Coast
Aboriginal masks. He would go on to explore his interest in using sports
paraphernalia creating sculptures out of catcher’s mitts, baseball bats, and
basketball jerseys. Jungen has stated that it is a deliberate choice to create
works out of materials produced by the sports industry; an industry that
appropriates Aboriginal terminology, such as the team names The Chiefs,
Indians, Redskins and Braves. However Jungen’s work is not exclusively tied to
his heritage. He has stated, “My involvement with my family and traditions is
personal – it’s not where my art comes from.”
His interest in architecture and in particular Buckminster Fuller is also evident in
his practice with his creation of multiple shelters for humans, animals and birds.
Overriding the majority of his work is Jungen’s ability to disassemble and
reassemble objects maintaining the integrity and meaning of his source material
and yet creating new possibilities for meaning Shape shifter (2000) /
Transmutation (2000).
Brian Jungen was the winner of the inaugural Sobey Art Award in 2002 and the
2010 Gershon Iskowitz Prize.
Brian is a key figure in Vancouver’s art community. In 2006, an exhibition of
Jungen’s work was held at Vancouver Art Gallery and in the UK, Jungen
exhibited People’s Flag at the Tate Modern. Jungen’s practice re-crafts modern
commodities into sculptural objects, entertaining a dialogue between his firstnation ancestry, the global economy and the object of art.
“I experiment until I can find a way I can manipulate them [the source material] or
take advantage of their iconography, without completely changing them. I like the
fact that people can still recognize what the source material is.”- Brian Jungen
Rita Letendre
Rita Letendre was born in Drummondville, Quebec, Canada in 1928, but moved
with her parents to Montreal in 1941. Beginning her career as an artist, during the
1950’s and early 1960’s in Montreal she participated in the Automatist movement
and painted with that intuitive strategy. Her style became abstract. She has
created murals as large as 60 feet by 60 feet as well as the smallest silkscreen
work. Her work has evolved through various media, from brush to spatula, pastel,
silk-screening, airbrushing and back to pastel. She has had more than 65 solo
Rita Letendre is a leading exponent of the abstract colorist movement. Her
artwork is widely collected throughout North America by governments, public
galleries and private organizations (click for partial list)
Her work has been exhibited in Paris (France), Rome (Italy), London (England),
Tel Aviv (Israel), Osaka (Japan), as well as in the major cities of the U.S. and
Canada, including New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Detroit,
Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver.
One of the points to remember about colonialism is the way that it makes
whatever culture it’s currently trying to colonize out to be a dead culture. This can
be seen devastatingly in Canada’s policies of assimilation (residential schools,
Indian act laws etc.), or even the tendency to look at certain traditions as a
historical re-enactment. It disintegrates that particular culture, it also makes the
members of that culture cling to the way things were without realizing that they
are living members of that culture, not some dying race. It stops that culture from
changing and suiting the needs of current generations, which kills it off for good,
as it becomes something other than what they do every day. As a result that
culture becomes an antiquity, a historical relic.
Canada’s Native people are still referred to officially in three broad categories by
government for administrative purposes, and in the Charter of Rights and
The Inuit are the people who originally lived in the Arctic. Their language is
Inuktitut, but it has several dialects that differ considerably from place to place.
Christopher Columbus called the First Nations “Indians” when he landed in North
America, because he thought he had reached India. Many now prefer to call
themselves First Nations, though many still call themselves Indians in everyday
conversation. The Canadian Government under the Indian Act as Status Indians
still legally categorizes them in three categories. Those who have lost their legal
status are called Non-Status Indians. Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau tried to get
rid of the Indian Act, but First Nations political groups insisted on keeping it,
because it defines their special status.
The Métis, are the group of people who resulted from the mixing of European
and Native men and women. The Métis developed a unique culture that included
elements of both European and Native ways and artifacts (clothes, tools, means
of travel, etc.). They pride themselves on their distinctiveness from both the
cultures from which they are descended.
In the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, Canada’s First Peoples are referred to
as Indians, Inuit, and Metis. The Charter recognizes the special Aboriginal
Rights of Inuit, Indians, and Metis.
McLoughlin, Moira. (1993). Of Boundaries and Borders: First Nations’ History in
Museums. Canadian Journal of Communication, Vol 18, No 3.
Phillips, Ruth. (1988). Indian Art: Where do You Put It? Muse 6, 3:65
Townsend-Gault (1998). First Nations Culture: Who Knows What? Canadian
Journal of Communication. Vol 23, No 1.

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