Sharing visual stories is a theme that runs through all of the art exhibited in the Art Gallery of Alberta’s exhibition 7: Professional Native Indian Artists Inc. The artwork dates from 1969 to 1980 and was specifically chosen for this exhibition to represent an important period of Indigenous art in Canada. Even though the artwork was organized by Saskatchewan’s MacKenzie Art Gallery to communicate specific messages about Indigenous art, the individual art pieces stand on their own, communicating stories that viewers can learn from.
It’s critical to consider the time period that affected the production of these works of art to understand the weight of their stories. In 1969, the Liberal Party of Canada wrote a white paper that proposed to forcibly assimilate indigenous people into Canadian society. If these policies had been adopted, they would have disregarded the importance of indigenous culture, and would have rejected any responsibility for decades of cultural genocide.
Each of the artworks in the exhibition is a product of these political tensions. Placing the time period in context with the artwork shows us how the works record the same indigenous culture and history that was under threat. In order to communicate the complex time period, the exhibition features quotes directly from the artists that describe the work you’re looking at. In cultural institutions, we are typically given the title, date, and medium of artworks along with the artist’s name. Providing the viewer with the artist’s own words makes us feel like we have a deeper relationship to what we’re looking at since the artist is able to share some of their thoughts with us.
For one of Norval Morrisseau’s paintings, this quote is displayed on the wall: “My art speaks and will continue to speak, transcending barriers of nationality, of language and of other forces that may be divisive.” Looking at Morrisseau’s work, we may not have the cultural background to understand the narrative constructed in his images. However, Morrisseau’s words, along with all of the artworks in the gallery, show us that indigenous culture continues to be recognized, displayed, communicated and taught.
Until Sun, Jul 3
Art Gallery of Alberta