“I knew I had a lot to say, … and it was a way for me to talk about the lens that I come from as a northerner, and as a woman.”
A man with chiselled features and serious brown eyes looked out from a billboard on 20th Street in Saskatoon. His right hand held a hammer high.
Wally Dion created this portrait. Putting it on a billboard in 2006 was Felicia Gay’s idea.
“I thought it would be really great to have it on a billboard in the core neighbourhood, so that when people are driving by on their way to work … there’s just a strong, beautiful Indigenous man, who’s a worker,” said Gay.
“His image was really pushing up against a stereotype that people just accept on 20th Street. … I think the perception is that every Indigenous person you see there is on welfare and not working, which is not true.”
Since Gay began curating art exhibitions 15 years ago in Saskatoon, interrupting the dominant narrative has been her goal.
She sought to do so at Wanuskewin, the last place she worked in Saskatoon. And it’s her aim at the MacKenzie Art Gallery in Regina, where she’s now a curatorial fellow.
Another of Gay’s first examples of using art to change a narrative was the Moon Lake Series, photographs Gay created with artist Joi Arcand.
“It was so emotionally draining that I never made art again. It was traumatizing,” said Gay, reflecting upon a sepia photograph. As the model in the photo, Arcand’s eyes are closed, head leaning against a tree. She’s covered in a blanket, which is covered in leaves.
This photo was part of the exhibition Give Her A Face, which showed at AKA Gallery and was dedicated to six missing and murdered Indigenous women — Calinda Waterhen, Shelly Napope, Eva Taysup, Mary Jane Serloin, Janet Christine Sylvestre, and Shirley Lonethunder. Serial killer John Martin Crawford was convicted of killing the first four women. Waterhen, Napope and Taysup’s remains were found in 1994 at Moon Lake near Saskatoon.
“When I was 16, this case made such an impression on me because I remember distinctly that all these women were identified as street workers, women that were in dangerous situations, basically saying that they kind of caused this violence upon themselves,” Gay recalled. “They were never given the dignity of having a picture in the newspaper.”
Gay curated the exhibition, designed to make people see “that these were human beings, these women were human and deserved better.”
Gay was born in Edmonton to a Swampy Cree mother and Scottish father — he had come to Canada, ironically, to work for the Hudson Bay Company.
She was raised in Cumberland House, 300 kilometres northeast of Prince Albert, a community well known as the Hudson Bay Company’s first inland trading post.
“I read a lot and I loved art. But I didn’t know anything about art history. I didn’t know anything about Indigenous people actually having a visual culture and contemporary art,” said Gay.
She left Cumberland House as an 18-year-old to attend the University of Saskatchewan, where she says an Indigenous art history class with Ruth Cuthand opened her eyes.
“For the first time I saw that there are all these contemporary Indigenous artists that have utilized visual culture to create voice, to kind of move and push gently, sometimes aggressively, at that dominant narrative. And I just became passionate about contemporary art.”
During university, Gay worked at the Snelgrove Gallery at the U of S, and at a small gallery in The Pas. She later worked for the Tribe Inc. artist-run centre.
“It’s like fate was just kind of pulling me the direction it wanted me to go and at some point I just had to kind of go all-in” as a curator, said Gay.
“I knew I had a lot to say, … and it was a way for me to talk about the lens that I come from as a northerner, and as a woman,” she added.
Coming to the end of her art history degree, Gay was at a loss for job prospects.
She didn’t want to move too far from home — even now, Regina is farther away than she’d like to be.
“I was reading Linda Tuhiwai Smith, an article about language nests. And it was about how these local Indigenous women, kokums and women from the neighbourhood, they created these language nests to revitalize the Maori language. And holy crap, I was so inspired,” said Gay.
“I’m like, why the hell am I waiting for a job? I’ll make my own job, you know? I’ll start my own artist-run centre and I’ll do this for my people.”
She called her classmate Arcand and pitched the plan. They had a fundraiser, rented a storefront downtown on 20th Street, enlisted family members to help renovate, and kept fundraising.
The Red Shift gallery was born.
“It was a way for us to work strategically with our Indigenous art community so that they could either show their work to our community where they’re at, or else to help make career artists buff up their CV so they could get into the galleries if that’s what they wanted to do,” said Gay.
She felt it was important to give to the community, since she heard so often that she’d have to move to Toronto or Montreal to have a curatorial career.
“I did Red Shift gallery for five years with no pay, and I was teaching at the university as a sessional,” said Gay. She had three children (her fourth was born since) and was working on her master’s degree. She did all the administrative and physical work running the gallery, and she burnt out.
Red Shift closed in 2010.
“There’s so much expected from artist-run centre directors for such little pay that it’s totally unfair, but we need them,” said Gay. “They serve a real purpose in our community and they certainly need a lot more support than they receive. Because they reach people that wouldn’t necessarily come to larger public institutions, and they can be like a gateway for people to come to larger institutions and feel welcome … And that’s why I’m here, I think.”
Since October, Gay has worked as a curatorial fellow at the MacKenzie. She’s working part-time, primarily on researching the Kampelmacher collection that was donated in 2016.
She’s also pursuing her PhD at the University of Regina, about interrogating white supremacy and patriarchy within cultural institutions.
“I’ve worked in all different types of institutions — whether it was not-for-profit organizations, within academia, within artist-run centre culture, Indigenous cultural institutions — and throughout them all, I’ve experienced patriarchy and white supremacy that has touched me personally in various ways,” said Gay.
“So how do we create safe spaces? … There needs to be change within infrastructure, within how boards are enacted, lots of things.”
She has other projects on the go, too.
At the MacKenzie, she’s bringing in Power Lines, an exhibition she curated at Wanuskewin featuring the work of Norval Morrisseau.
She is also working on a group exhibition called Touching Earth and Sky.
On the side, she’s guest curating this fall’s 2020 Biennal of Contemporary Art through the Remai Art Gallery.
And, she’ll be back in Saskatoon early next year for a large-scale exhibition of Ruth Cuthand’s work, which she’s curating at the College galleries on campus.
“It’s a lot of work. I have a lot on my plate, definitely, but I’ve done it before,” said Gay.
In the boreal forest, nature inspires art – Prince Albert Daily Herald
The outside has come inside at the Mann Art Gallery, with simultaneous displays from several artists who draw their inspiration from nature albeit in different ways.
For Ken Van Rees, it was walking through a burnt patch of forest near South End (Reindeer Lake) that caused him to wonder what he could do with charcoal and canvas.
“As I was walking through the forest, I looked down at my pants, they were light-coloured, and there were all these charcoal markings on them,” said Van Rees during a reception held by the gallery on Nov. 26. “I thought, oh, maybe I could do something with this and this started this long journey of creating art from burnt forest.”
Van Rees allows the forest, wind and time to do some of the work for him. He puts a canvas down in a chosen spot, puts a burned log on top and then comes back days, weeks or months later to see what has happened.
He has also set up a game camera and was interested to see the wildlife that stopped and took a sniff or walked on the canvas.
“There were all these animals looking at my artwork. There were deer, there were bears walking across my artwork. There were wolves walking around,” Van Rees said.
Where most people avoid burned areas of nature and look for lush, green landscape, the fiery side of nature has a more visual appeal for him.
“Most of us prefer a green forest. That’s what we like to go camping in or hiking in. For me, because I worked on forest fires when I was a teenager and I had that first experience with forest fires, it somehow resonated with me,” he said.
Van Rees’ art can be found at the Mann Art Gallery until January 15 and is an accompaniment to the work of well known artist Greg Hardy.
In contrast to the more muted colours in Van Rees’ work, Hardy’s in some cases has bursts of orange and other bright colours.
“This is a show of drawings from the La Ronge area, where I have a cabin up on an island,” said Hardy.
About four years ago, Hardy was talking to the then director of the Mann gallery and agreed to a showing of his drawings.
With changes in staff at the gallery and the pandemic, it took time for the exhibition to come together, but it is now displayed.
Some of the drawings were done decades ago and some are more recent but the focus on the natural world is shared with Van Rees.
“I have an affinity for the natural world and I paint a lot of things, but I always come back to its landscape that moves me the most as subject matter,” said Hardy.
Hardy’s career has been established for some time and he makes it his full time occupation, sharing his time between La Ronge and his main studio near Saskatoon.
“Realistically, this is a small sampling of the drawings that I have because I draw all the time,” Hardy explained. “It’s primarily the landscape,” he said of his decision to work in northern Saskatchewan. “We used to go up further north and do a lot of canoe trips and it had always been a dream or a hope to have a wilderness cabin at some point.”
An architect from Prince Albert had the cabin available for sale and so Hardy was able to buy it.
“As soon as I saw it, I was just like this is amazing,” he said. “The subject matter was all around and I knew it was going to be very positive.”
Hardy paints or draws where ever he is, and mainly draws inspiration from the plains before focusing on the forest.
“This was like a 15 year concentration on Lac La Ronge and it still feels like a positive source of inspiration,” he said. “But having said that, I’m shifting gears and going to go back to the plains.”
He looks for good quality light when he paints and also looks for energy.
“The more dramatic the landscape the better. I feel more in tune with what’s going on if there’s a storm or a pending storm,” Hardy explained.
“And I’ve always been taken with the sky, since I was a little kid.”
A third display is up at the gallery for the duration of the exhibition featuring Hardy along with Van Rees.
Title ‘The Secret is in the Paper’, the collection was curated by collections assistant Breanne Bandur and is focused on different approaches to the treatment of paper.
Princess Diana photo exhibition tours three U.S. cities
A new exhibition featuring photographs of the late Princess Diana will be on display in three U.S. cities starting in December.
“Princess Diana Exhibition: Accredited Access” gives a candid view of Diana through the eyes of Anwar Hussein, the longest-serving British royal photographer, and his two sons Zak and Samir Hussein, also photographers. Anwar Hussein took photos of Diana from when she became a public figure until her death in 1997.
“You get to walk through and see a proper journey of how Diana progressed throughout her life from being just a shy, innocent girl to then moving on to being a fashion icon and a humanitarian,” said Zak Hussein, promoting the exhibition in Santa Monica, California.
Visitors are given a phone and headphones so they can read and hear commentary about the significance of each image.
“You get to hear from myself and my brother the stories behind the pictures,” said Zak. “It’s not your regular exhibition of just looking at pictures on the wall … It’s got that more documentary feel about it.”
Zak hopes to educate people about the ways Princess Diana changed the royals. For example, Diana rarely wore gloves.
“Beforehand, it was quite normal for the royals to wear gloves when touching members of the public and it’s something that Diana didn’t do. She wanted to really feel the person and that emotions come across through touch,” said Zak.
Anwar Hussein is widely credited with conveying a more candid view of the royals. Zak said his father excelled at capturing authentic glimpses of the subject’s personality, and advised him to do the same.
“People like to see more candid, more relaxed images of the royals and it’s something that again you can see in this exhibition,” Zak said.
The exhibition by the Husseins goes on display in Los Angeles, Chicago and New York from Dec. 1.
(Reporting by Rollo Ross; Editing by Karishma Singh and Cynthia Osterman)
Aberdeen Art Gallery wins architecture award – Museums Association
Aberdeen Art Gallery has been named Scotland’s building of the year following its recent £36.4m redevelopment.
Aberdeen City Council’s flagship cultural venue was designed by Hoskins Architects. The redevelopment, which was completed in late 2019, involved refurbishing and extending the 19th-century building.
The project involved new exhibition and education spaces, upgraded building services and environmental performance, and improved art handling, storage, back of house and study facilities. Aberdeen Art Gallery is an A-listed building.
Chris Coleman-Smith, director at Hoskins Architects, said: “The team has done an exceptional job of subtly and sensitively restoring original features of the 19th-century building and improving fabric performance, alongside confident alteration and the bold addition of new elements that enhance the visitor experience, knitting together a thread of careful conservation and the requirements of a world class, 21st-century gallery.”
The annual Doolan Award is assessed by an expert jury who look at each project’s architectural integrity, usability and context, delivery and execution, and sustainability. All types of building are eligible for the award, which is named in memory of its founder and patron, the architect/developer Andy Doolan, who died in 2004. The architects of the winning building receive a £10,000.
RIAS president Christina Gaiger PRIAS said: “Aberdeen Art Gallery is an outstanding building and a highly deserving winner of the 2021 Doolan Award. Hoskins Architects have brought a piece of Scottish heritage into the 21st century with humility, skill and sensitivity.
“In the face of the climate emergency, how we upgrade, respect and adapt our existing building stock is absolutely crucial. In Aberdeen Art Gallery we have an outstanding example of how a public building, thanks to the talent of Hoskins Architects and far-sighted clients Aberdeen City Council, exemplifies the smart re-use of an existing building, as part of a collective regenerative response to climate change.”
The redevelopment of the gallery was supported by Aberdeen City Council, which provided £14.6m, and the National Lottery Heritage Fund, which contributed £10m. Energy company BP donated £1m to the project.
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