Certain paintings probably come to mind when you think of Canadian war art. Benjamin West’s 1770 oil on canvas, The Death of General Wolfe. Works from the First World War done by future Group of Seven members: A.Y. Jackson’s A Copse, Evening and Frederick Varley’s For What?, both from 1918.
If anyone has a grasp on the history of Canadian war art, it is Laura Brandon, author of War Art in Canada: A Critical History. Brandon was the historian, art and war, at the Canadian War Museum from 1992 until 2015. Around the time she started working on this book, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission report was delivered, and she knew she needed to rethink the project.
“I realized that if I was going to write a book about Canadian war art in its wholeness, I had to go as far back in history as I possibly could. Because Canadian war art doesn’t begin in the postcontact period,” said Brandon, stressing that while she is entirely of settler ancestry, she felt it was crucial that she include Indigenous history and representation.
“It became of compelling importance that I try to put this bigger story on the map.”
War Art in Canada – a free online publication produced by the Art Canada Institute that is available beginning Remembrance Day – is a survey, an overview, an introduction. It is not meant to be exhaustive or even comprehensive, but it is a revelation, nonetheless.
“Art, like history, tends to favour the victorious, so, until recently, the bulk of Canadian war art has reflected Western traditions and genres at the expense of Indigenous expressions,” Brandon writes in the preface. “This book attempts to redress the balance.”
Rather than the obvious starting point – perhaps that Death of General Wolfe painting – the narrative begins thousands of years before contact.
“We have in Canada a long, long history of conflict, whether we want to acknowledge it or not,” said Brandon during an interview this week from Ottawa, where she lives.
Early Indigenous artifacts that were related to conflict – weapons or clothing, for instance – have often not been studied as fine art, but ethnographically. And they have not featured significantly in Canada’s military art history. This publication changes that. One of its earliest pieces is a 17th-century calumet, or ceremonial pipe. Smoking the calumet cemented military alliances and peace treaties.
“From the beginning, Indigenous peoples fought back,” Brandon writes. Even before the French and British arrived, the Vikings sent expeditions here. This history is addressed in an evocative 2002 sculpture Meeting of Two Worlds, by Luben Boykov and Richard Brixel, installed in Newfoundland. The sculpture represents the meeting between the Vikings and Indigenous people more than 1,000 years ago.
One of the featured pieces with the longest history is Box with Quilled Battle Scene by Mesaquab (Jonathan Yorke). While the work was made in 1904, it depicts a battle scene originally painted on a rock at Ontario’s Lake Couchiching about 200 years earlier. Mesaquab, who was Ojibway, used porcupine quills and sweetgrass to reproduce the scene from memory onto the lid of a birchbark box. (In War Art in Canada, Indigenous names are used first, with anglicized names in parentheses afterward.)
Another event addressed in art was a delegation of four Indigenous leaders – three Haudenosaunee and one Anishinaabe – who travelled to London in 1710 with British military leaders and met with Queen Anne. She commissioned portraits of them by Dutch artist John Verelst. This portrait series is known as the Four Kings.
Frederick Alexcee’s A Fight Between the Haida and the Tsimshian, c. 1896, depicts an 1855 battle between the Indigenous nations at what was then called Port Simpson, and is now Lax Kw’alaams, B.C. Alexcee, the son of a Tsimshian woman and a Haudenosaunee man, paints a large colonial structure looming in the background. The structure is in the light; the Indigenous warriors in its shadow.
Canada has a rich history of art depicting war. But even in more recent, 20th-century history, there is an absence of Indigenous figures in official Canadian war art, despite several programs that have employed artists to create images from the battlefield. During the First World War, the 4,000 members of the Canadian Expeditionary Force who were of Indigenous descent were virtually ignored in imagery, Brandon writes.
As were the 3000 Indigenous people in Canada who enlisted during the Second World War. Even when there was some attention paid, the portrayals – or titles – could be offensive. For instance, a 1942 portrait by Henry Lamb was originally titled A Redskin in the Royal Canadian Artillery. In 1999, the soldier was identified – by Brandon herself – and the title of the portrait was changed to Trooper Lloyd George Moore, RCA.
A significant number of Indigenous artists have now participated in the Canadian Forces Artists Program. They include Adam Stimson, a visual and performance artist who is a member of the Siksika Nation in Southern Alberta.
The book’s final image is Cree artist Kent Monkman’s monumental 2018 painting Miss Chief’s Wet Dream. Monkman employs the visual language of Western history painting to denounce the actual history, as he cleverly inserts Indigenous characters and concerns.
Brandon hopes that this publication is a starting point for others – especially Indigenous art historians. “I hope somebody will pick it up and keep going,” she said. “Keep on exploring, keep on learning, keep on seeking understanding, keep on seeking meaning and never underestimate visual culture in all its forms as a mean of telling our history.”
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Art Museum on Market / Scenic Architecture Office
Text description provided by the architects. The Xitang East Area under construction is the eastward expansion of the old town of Xitang, including nearly 100,000 square meters of tourist retail, hotel, visitor center and cultural facilities. After completion, it will become a new entrance at the northeast of the old town. Xitang East Area is divided by a river into two phases. As the key point of Phase Ⅱ, Building One locates at the southwest corner of the northern site, facing the river on the west and south sides to overlook the old town and adjoining the Phase Ⅰretail blocks on the other side of the river.
The old town of Xitang has strict urban planning requirements for the new buildings in the scenic area. In addition to the height limit, sloping roof, small blue-black tile, black-white & gray tone and wood color are all prerequisites for the design. What kind of program should be planned in the core area of the East Area riverfront? What kind of form-type should be used to meet the needs of function and establish its landmark while complying with the requirements of townscape? It is the answer to these challenges that dominate the entire design process.
The basic urban fabric of the pedestrian streets in East Area is the retail courtyard on the ground and first floor and gable-roof-house hotel courtyard on the second floor. On top of this “base color” are the special landmarks scattered in the area, such as the tourist center at the center, the Nijigen Activity Hall at the northeast corner, and the Naera Boutique Hotel PhaseⅡat the northwest corner. As one of these landmarks, Building One especially needs to attract people to stay and participate in long time purposed activities, thereby forming an agglomeration effect and becoming the highlight of the tourist experience in the entire eastern area. After thorough studies and discussions, a mixed function of market and art gallery became the consensus of the client and the design team, that is to create an open and flowing market space on the first floor to accommodate the organic farm market, creative bookstore, coffee shop, restaurant and hotel reception while create a multifunctional art gallery on the second floor to host exhibitions, forums and cocktail parties.
We translated the program and style regulations into the design commitment of space and image, which became the basis for the tectonic system. As per the obvious difference between the programs of the upper and lower floors, we continued the stacking pattern of frame and gable roof structure used in the pedestrian street, but reversed it upside-down with the gable roof structure at the bottom in order to acquire particularity with coordination.
The Chinese overhanging gable roof supported by the white gable wall is a traditional residential form-type in the southern Yangtze River Delta, and a single roof can be replicated continuously to cover a larger area. We extracted the structural form of Y-shaped columns from the geometry of the continuous gable wall to support the upside-down triangular truss roof, forming a linear unit with a width of 6.3 meters and a length of nearly 52 meters. The space in the truss is used to install MEP equipment, and a continuous undulating indoor space is formed under the truss. 6 linear units are connected parallel to form the roof covering the ground floor market, echoing the continuous ancient town settlements. The freely distributed Y-shaped columns ensure open and flowing space for the market, making sharable and flexible space possible for diversified functions. At the east and west ends, some of the Y-shaped columns are replaced by V-shaped gable walls with diagonal braces inside, which solve the seismic force and establishes a connection with the traditional gable walls with inverted slope.
The art gallery sits on the market, and if we had continued to use the language of gable roofs and unit settlements, we would easily achieve harmony in style, but it would be difficult then to provide the necessary landmark identity and large interior space. Therefore, we tried to construct a single, relatively abstract form to house a column-free space. The connection with tradition is no longer limited to the figurative form, but draws inspiration from wooden craftsmanship to pursue a more complete iconicity. In the end, we extracted the cross-bearing structure from the lantern craft of Xitang.
The big roof is about 30 meters long and 20 meters wide. 92 short glulam beams cross and bear with each other to form a slightly arched shell, which makes the large-span structure more reasonable and solves drainage of the roof with its slope simultaneously. The weight of the wooden roof is transferred to the surrounding wooden pillars through a ring of horizontal steel frame. The group of columns is composed of X-shaped oblique columns three-dimensionally composd by inter-inserted glulam poles. Providing continuous supports in both the vertical and horizontal dimensions, this column group has a strong resistance for lateral force. It not only bears the horizontal thrust of the arch roof beams and makes slender column size with a section of 160X160mm possible, but also provides side resistance for the glass curtain wall at the inner side of the column.
On the second floor, we concentrate the stair, elevator, large lifting platform and other equipment in a long box on the north side of the gallery to keep the purity of the main space. The outward folded floor-to-ceiling curtain wall is made of half- glazed glass with gradual fogging, and an adjustable membrane is set under the diamond-shaped skylight on the roof to offer the art gallery soft natural light during daytime, while the warm light can be shed at night, making it a glamorous “super lantern” in the east district of Xitang.
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