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Art back on display at MMFA, including a powerful act of Holocaust remembrance – Montreal Gazette

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These Montreal Museum of Fine Arts exhibitions were available online in recent months, but can be viewed in person as of Thursday.

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For art lovers, the news arrived like an immaculately timed balm: Montreal museums were allowed to reopen this week — earlier than expected, but none too soon. Had the current Montreal Museum of Fine Arts shows remained limited to online viewings, for example, the loss would have been profound. That they can now be viewed the old-fashioned way — up close and in person — is cause for celebration.
The MMFA will reopen on Thursday, with mandatory online reservations and hygiene protocols in place. The major exhibition on display, Riopelle: The Call of Northern Landscapes and Indigenous Cultures, was covered by the Montreal Gazette in December, upon its unveiling online. Following are details of the three other shows visitors can experience.

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Montreal artist Yehouda Chaki was born in 1938 into a Sephardic Jewish family in Greece. Thanks to the efforts of a family friend who helped hide them in the countryside — one of the non-Jewish Righteous Among the Nations who aided their Jewish friends and neighbours at risk to themselves — he and his younger brother and parents made it through the war and eventually to Israel in 1945. They were the only branch of his extended family to survive the Holocaust.

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In art, the young Chaki found a way to help deal with his loss and displacement. A three-year spell in Paris saw him meet Montrealer Grace Aronoff, who was studying at the Sorbonne; the pair came to Montreal in 1963 and married that same year. 

“As an art student (in Israel), I was the youngest in my class and was surrounded by people who either had numbers on them or had experienced the Holocaust,” Chaki told the Montreal Gazette in an email interview. “I remember walking home from school with one of my teachers who was a Holocaust survivor. Despite their dark past, the people there were not depressed and always came to class with a strong energy to make art. In that context, I tried to translate the perceptions that were gleaned from the stories of the people around me.”

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Just how deeply Chaki took that mission to heart is powerfully manifest in an installation, decades in the making and first presented in 1999, that is now mounted at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts to mark 75 years since the liberation of Auschwitz. (Originally scheduled to open in October before new lockdown measures took effect, the exhibition was made viewable on the MMFA’s website in December.) Mi Makir: A Search for the Missing consists of hundreds of portraits rendered in acrylic, India ink and latex, each one bearing a number in the top left corner, obtained from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, signifying a specific Holocaust victim. Their effect is emphasized by a sculpture of a pile of books, evoking the Nazi book burnings of the 1930s. The show is a remarkable act of remembrance and tribute.

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“The idea,” said curator Iris Amizlev, “is that people are going to walk into this space and be transported into this world, this other dimension where you have no choice but to contend with what happened.”

The faces of Mi Makir are, to varying degrees, indistinct and obscured in a dark, sombre background, but despite this their characters manage to shine through — something Chaki himself underlined.

“I have noticed that after drawing and painting hundreds of faces, they became familiar to me, as I established a certain rapport (with) each one of them. At the same time, the people depicted became familiar to one another and formed a congregation. In Mi Makir, the people’s portraits are seen together in this ‘congregation,’ but they are also individually entrapped.”

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For the 82-year-old artist, Mi Makir is both the culmination of a lifelong mission and another project in a wide-ranging artistic practice that has placed him among the Canadian elite with both private and corporate buyers.

Asked where he would place Mi Makir in the context of his life’s work, Chaki replied: “It is difficult to take a step back and see the larger context, since I am constantly totally absorbed by whatever I am creating in the moment.”

It’s a creative practice Chaki continues with vigour, even in the face of Parkinson’s disease.

“Despite my condition, I am blessed with not having had to stop working,” he said. “I go to the studio at least six days a week. I still feel most comfortable when in the studio and am lucky to be surrounded by wonderful friends and family to help.”

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Manuel Mathieu is the first Haitian-Canadian artist to have a work acquired by the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts.
Manuel Mathieu is the first Haitian-Canadian artist to have a work acquired by the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. Photo by Clovis-Alexandre Desvarieux

Manuel Mathieu: Survivance showcases the first Haitian-Canadian artist to have a work acquired by the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts.

The paintings — large, colour-saturated canvases occupying an ideal point between the abstract and the figurative — can be taken as instalments in a single, loosely connected ongoing narrative, or appreciated as stand-alone works. They owe some of their inspiration to a pair of serious traffic accidents suffered by the artist — one in London, the other in Montreal. Mathieu used his recovery time to reflect on his artistic mission, part of which is to fight against the forces conspiring to erase the history of his native country. Place yourself in front of a Mathieu canvas for a few minutes and you’ll see details emerging in real time. As with all the best art, the rewards are directly proportional to the attention given.

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Erich Heckel's woodcut Männerbildnis (Portrait of a Man; 1919) is part of the exhibition Grafik! Five Centuries of German and Austrian Graphics, at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. © Estate of Erich Heckel / SOCAN (2021). Photo: MMFA, Christine Guest
Erich Heckel’s 1919 woodcut Männerbildnis (Portrait of a Man) is part of the exhibition Grafik! Five Centuries of German and Austrian Graphics. Photo by Estate of Erich Heckel /SOCAN

It’s not every day you get to stand in front of a leaf from the 1455 Gutenberg Bible. And that’s just one item among the 90-plus on display in Grafik! Five Centuries of German and Austrian Graphics, a printmaking show of stunning historical and stylistic range. It includes a who’s who of seminal artists, from Renaissance giant Albrecht Dürer to the iconic Viennese secessionist Gustav Klimt.Fans of German expressionism and the Bauhaus school will be especially well served; these genres have never stopped looking modern in the century since their heyday, and they are represented by Emil Nolde, Otto Dix, Wassily Kandinsky and others. Asked to choose two must-sees from a show of must-sees, curator Hilliard Goldfarb picked Dürer’s The Beast With Two Horns, from the series The Apocalypse (1496-1497), and Erich Heckel’s Männerbildnis (Portrait of a Man; 1919).

AT A GLANCE

Mi Makir: A Search for the Missing continues through March 14.

Manuel Mathieu: Survivance continues through March 28.

Grafik! Five Centuries of German and Austrian Graphics continues through May 2.

The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, 1380 Sherbrooke St. W., reopens on Thursday, Feb. 11. Tickets must be reserved online. For the full schedule and more information, visit mbam.qc.ca.

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Peterborough artists Brian Nichols and John Marris facilitate community art making during the pandemic – kawarthaNOW.com

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Peterborough artists Brian Nichols and John Marris have been facilitating community art making during the pandemic, including for people facing marginalization and alienation. Pictured is artwork at One City Peterborough’s open studio, located at 541 Water Street in Peterborough, which is open on a drop-in basis to community members between 2:30 and 4 p.m. every Monday afternoon. (Photo: Sarah McNeilly / kawarthaNOW.com)

“I am here as an artist,” Brian Nichols emphatically states through his mask, while stopping mid-pace, on both feet, as if to punctuate his statement. “I’m here as a volunteer.”

With a nod, the artist, volunteer, and psychotherapist springs back into action, energetically fluttering about the studio once more.

It’s the first day the drop-in open studio at One City Peterborough has reopened since the most recent provincial-wide lockdown, and the energy in the room is palpable.

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The new studio space at One City Peterborough, which first opened in October 2020, is buzzing with excited artistic experimentation. Located at 541 Water Street in Peterborough, the studio is open on a drop-in basis to community members between 2:30 and 4 p.m. every Monday afternoon.

Light pours through the large windows onto colourful works of art displayed on the mantle, tables, and walls. That foreboding sense of dread we’ve all grown so accustomed to can’t help but give way to pure joy inside the small studio.

Were it not for the masked participants partaking in the occasional six-foot-shuffle — that awkward physical-distance dance we’ve all shared with unwitting partners over the past year — one could almost forget, if only for a fleeting moment, that we are living in times of crisis.

A freshly made piece of art at One City Peterborough's open studio.  (Photo: Sarah McNeilly / kawarthaNOW.com)
A freshly made piece of art at One City Peterborough’s open studio. (Photo: Sarah McNeilly / kawarthaNOW.com)

This is not a typical art class. There is no teacher standing at the front of the room imparting their knowledge onto passive recipients. Rather, it’s a non-hierarchical environment where the small group can safely gather to actively make art together, and learn about themselves in the process.

“It feels even more important during COVID,” says Tammy Kuehne, warming room coordinator for One City Peterborough, which is focused on housing, food security, community safety, and inclusion. The organization is an amalgamation of Warming Room Community Ministries and Peterborough Reintegration Services.

“The need for spaces where people can connect with each other in person, still being safe, is crucial,” Kuehne adds. “We’ve had a lot of people really excited to learn that we’re opening back up.”

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Now more than ever we all need community self-expression and creativity, but for those who have faced marginalization and alienation — mental health challenges, homelessness, illness, disability, and poverty — community art making represents a vital lifeline during the isolating conditions of the pandemic.

Throughout the pandemic, both Nichols and fellow local artist John Marris have been hard at work finding ways to deliver the community arts programming they facilitate, respectively, with various not-for-profits.

Prior to the most recent lockdown, Nichols had been facilitating the open studio at One City Peterborough for Circles of Support & Accountability (CoSA) — a restorative justice program — since October.

Prior to the most recent lockdown, Peterborough artist Brian Nichols had been facilitating the open studio at One City Peterborough for Circles of Support & Accountability (CoSA), a restorative justice program.  Pictured is some of the CoSA artwork at the One City Peterborough open studio. (Photo: Sarah McNeilly / kawarthaNOW.com)
Prior to the most recent lockdown, Peterborough artist Brian Nichols had been facilitating the open studio at One City Peterborough for Circles of Support & Accountability (CoSA), a restorative justice program. Pictured is some of the CoSA artwork at the One City Peterborough open studio. (Photo: Sarah McNeilly / kawarthaNOW.com)

Throughout most of the winter lockdown, Marris has been offering art-making sessions for young residents in a bubbled household at YES Shelter for Youth and Families. He also managed to offer outdoor art-making sessions with YES in the summertime.

Peterborough artist John Marris has been offering art-making sessions for young residents at YES Shelter for Youth and Families.(Photo: John Marris / Facebook)
Peterborough artist John Marris has been offering art-making sessions for young residents at YES Shelter for Youth and Families.(Photo: John Marris / Facebook)

In January, Marris and local artist Wendy Trusler moved online the community art making workshops they had been running with mental health patients at Peterborugh Regional Health Centre so they could safely continue their important work.

This past fall, Marris and Nichols were also able to continue the ‘You Can Make It Art’ workshops at The Mount Community Centre, though only for residents of the centre. Previously, the workshops had been available on a drop-in basis to the broader Peterborough community, after Nichols launched the program in 2018.

Marris and Nichols have made it their mission to provide those facing marginalization with something the artists believe to be as vital as food, shelter, water, and air.

Art is neither a luxury nor a pursuit reserved only for the cult of the expert. Self-expression is an integral part of being human.

“These community art projects take us back to the fundamental need to express ourselves and explore ourselves in healthy and productive ways,” Marris writes for a presentation he recently delivered before the Arts, Culture Heritage Advisory Committee for The City of Peterborough.

“They help us develop skills and confidence and self-belief. They teach us how to be present, to find focus, and to know we have the right to express ourselves — to be the authors of our world.”

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For both Nichols and Marris the impetus to create, and to encourage others to do so, is anchored in the two artists’ introspective and philosophical investigations of presence, respectively.

“I need to find things that take me into that moment of presence,” explains Marris during a telephone interview. “What I’ve discovered is that making art, working with play, and making art with other people has become this way to be absolutely present in the moment.”

As for Nichols, his background in psychotherapy certainly contributes to his approach to community art-making. Most participants with whom he works have experienced grief or trauma in some form. However, his process is also born from a place of vulnerability and empathy from his own experiences.

In 2018, The Mount Community Centre hosted 'You Can Make It Art' drop-in art making workshops for the general community. The workshops resumed this past fall, but only for residents of the centre. (Photo: John Marris)
In 2018, The Mount Community Centre hosted ‘You Can Make It Art’ drop-in art making workshops for the general community. The workshops resumed this past fall, but only for residents of the centre. (Photo: John Marris)

In 2018, after a diagnosis of giant cell arteritis (a rare autoimmune disease) forced Nichols to leave his psychotherapy practice, he felt a sense of urgency to make art and to encourage community art-making. Since then, his artistic output has been as prolific as his community art-making initiatives.

“It’s been an incredible journey to figure out how to do the work,” Nicols says. “And it’s really subtle and easy, but difficult to grasp, how it’s not teaching, how it’s not simply making art — it’s about connection.”

“What is present is a new pain and the absence, for me, is often hope and a sense of future,” he replies when asked how presence and absence figure into his process. “To help others embrace the new pain, without trying to minimize it — we’re not just the pain but that’s hugely a part of our existence — without moving to hope and without any sense of future. What we have is now — being in the now — which is that sense of presence.”

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Art making is, in many ways, world making. There exists an essential connection between the real and the imagined. An artist’s created world is necessarily separate from, yet connected to, the world in which we live.

“I think living is that whole process of world making,” Nichols acknowledges. “To live authentically is to create both your own interior and exterior world.”

Through art, Marris and Nichols offer people not only the opportunity to be the creators of their own worlds, but also to create an inclusive and even emancipatory community of art makers, connected by their shared presence in the present.

 Community art making at The Mount Community Centre. (Photo: John Marris)
Community art making at The Mount Community Centre. (Photo: John Marris)

As such, their practices — art making, world making, and the gift of presence — transform the One City Peterborough studio into a sanctuary for all.

To support the important work Nichols and Marris are doing in the Peterborough community, you can make a donation to One City Peterborough at www.onecityptbo.ca/donate or to YES Shelter for Youth and Families at yesshelter.ca/help/help-yes/donate.

Atelier Ludmila Gallery, in the Commerce Building at 129-1/2 Hunter Street West in downtown Peterborough, will be exhibiting Marris’ most recent body of work, Material Dialogue. The show opens on the First Friday Art Crawl on March 5th from 6 to 10 p.m. It will be exhibited until Sunday, March 28th. Fifty per cent of all sales from the show will be donated to YES Shelter for Youth and Families.

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The Vancouver Heritage Foundation needs some art for their Wall – Vancouver Is Awesome

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The Wall, a wall of the CBC Vancouver Plaza, is in need of some new art.

Not because the art there is old, but because every year the art changes. Run by the Vancouver Heritage Foundation (VHF), the Wall currently shows The Giant Hand and the Birth of Gianthropology, by Henri Robideau, but its time is coming to an end.

We are now accepting proposals for the 2021 The WALL installation. Artists and independent curators are invited to submit proposals for consideration by the 2021 WALL committee,” states the foundation on the VHF website.

The curated space goes back to 2009, when the CBC was redesigning their building.

“2020 marked the 10-year anniversary of The WALL! This outdoor installation has featured artworks of both upcoming and established artists, exploring the theme of Vancouver’s built environment,” writes the VHF.

The 43′ x 32′ frame is above, and sponsored by, JJ Bean. 

The deadline for proposals from artists is coming up on March 15.

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STU student brings awareness to ecological crisis through art – The Aquinian

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Grace Hickey, a third-year St. Thomas University student, used the symbolism of the labyrinth to create an opportunity for reflection and self-awareness surrounding the ecological crisis. (Submitted: Madeline Harquail)

Grace Hickey, a third-year St. Thomas University student, put out a call to the Fredericton arts community for environmental pieces for an installation.

Hickey is organizing the installation as a part of her fine arts course at STU and her work with the Canadian Wilderness Stewardship Program. 

The project is inspired by Hickey’s former studies on labyrinths. She said a labyrinth is an ancient symbol that relates to wholeness, combining the imagery of the circle and a spiral into a meandering but purposeful path. Hickey said she’s using the labyrinth as a medium of how the installation will be displayed made of painter’s tape to take the viewer on a journey of reflection.

“The labyrinth represents a journey to our own center, and back again out into the world,” said Hickey.

The installation will be presented from April 6 to 10 in room 203 in Margaret McCain Hall with specific viewing times to be announced. The art submission deadline is at the end of March. Hickey said that she hopes the project will bring a new level of awareness and reflection to its viewers. 

Grace Hickey, a third-year St. Thomas University student, put out a call to the Fredericton arts community for environmental pieces for an installation. (Submitted: Grace Hickey)

Hickey planned on using this symbolism of the labyrinth to create an opportunity for reflection and self-awareness surrounding the ecological crisis. 

“[The artwork is] going to be purposely placed throughout the space and the labyrinth to allow the public participants to come and walk the labyrinth and have a contemplated moment with each piece,” said Hickey.

Because of the request for environmental art, Hickey said that she has received an “overwhelming” amount of support from the community. She said she has collected a variety of pieces in a number of mediums including paintings, sculptures and poetry. 

Hickey said her intention behind using multiple mediums is that she wants to hear stories about individual experiences and the environmental crisis.

“My hope is that people will have time to reflect on their own personal stories and experiences and be able to take this forward as part of our collective solution,” said Hickey. 

Grace Hickey said her intention behind using multiple mediums is that she wants to hear stories about individual experiences and the environmental crisis. (Submitted: Lila Gorey-McSorley)

The cause is important to Hickey as an environmental studies major. Though she explained that while she had always been passionate about social justice issues, she hadn’t even been aware that environmental studies was an offered program at STU. 

Hickey said that her introduction to environmental studies course in first-year was a “profound experience” and the more she learned, the more she wanted to dig deeper.

“I don’t think I’ve fully comprehended the fact that we were currently in an ecological crisis and a climate crisis and what that meant,” said Hickey. 

“I felt that it was important for me to absorb all this knowledge so that I could best effect change in whatever way I can, whether that be creating an art installation, or whether that be later on in my career.”

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