A Saskatchewan art gallery is investigating 2,000 pieces in its collection following the return of a stolen statue to India.
CBC News was recently granted access to the basement vault of Regina’s MacKenzie Art Gallery, where namesake Norman MacKenzie’s journals and records are stored. They detail MacKenzie’s theft of the Indian statue, but also raise questions about other pieces he acquired from China, Syria and elsewhere.
Galleries and museums across North America and Europe are facing demands to return pieces looted from other countries. Some say it’s also time to debate whether names like MacKenzie should remain on those buildings.
“Institutions — whether they’re local, provincial, national — all created a colonial narrative. The narrative was one of defeat. It’s a colonial story,” said Gerald McMaster, a Canada research chair at the Ontario College of Art and Design (OCAD) and director at the Wapatah Centre for Indigenous Visual Knowledge.
“I think the reckoning is coming.”
The MacKenzie gallery’s CEO John Hampton recently escorted CBC News to a basement door marked “Vault,” keying in a series of security codes before entering. After donning blue latex gloves, Hampton opened a drawer containing MacKenzie’s original dictated ledgers from his 1913 world trips.
MacKenzie had moved to Regina from Ontario years earlier and established a thriving law practice. His growing art collection was almost totally destroyed during the 1912 Regina Cyclone, the deadliest tornado in Canadian history, which killed 28 people.
MacKenzie and his wife then embarked on the first of two world tours to replace and enhance his decimated collection.
The story of the statue
Hampton opened the large, black leather-bound book and flipped through page after page of photos and descriptions of each piece. It included the story of the Indian statue.
MacKenzie had apparently dictated the story at some point after returning: He and his guide were rowing down the Ganges River in the holy city of Varanasi, then called Benares, when they came upon a Hindu temple.
He saw three stone statues at the edge of a pool filled with red liquid. MacKenzie assumed it was sacrificial blood, but gallery officials say it was most likely coloured with “sindoor,” a red powder used in ceremonies.
MacKenzie talked to a man there who agreed to steal one of the statues. Later that night, the man brought all three to MacKenzie’s hotel room.
MacKenzie said he’d only buy one, because he knew it was “a most serious offence” and he could have “gotten into trouble” with the British colonial government if he tried to smuggle out all three. MacKenzie told the man to return to the scene and put back the other two statues.
But he took the third statue — depicting goddess Annapurna — back home to Saskatchewan, where it remained for the past 108 years.
In the ledger entry, as with others, MacKenzie appears proud to have spirited out the rare religious artifact.
“This is the idol that I saw the people worshipping … and is a good sample of the type of idol which is used by the poorer classes,” MacKenzie said.
Two years ago, visiting Winnipeg artist Divya Mehra raised questions about the statue, initially because it was mislabeled. Gallery officials investigated, concluded it belonged to the people of Varanasi and voluntarily returned it.
Upon its return last month, the Annapurna statue was draped in colourful robes and flowers and taken on a multi-city tour. Hindu faithful lined the streets to catch a glimpse of the procession to Varanasi.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who represents Varanasi in parliament, lauded its return. He also thanked gallery officials and the University of Regina, which was bequeathed MacKenzie’s collection after his death in 1936.
It was important for Annapurna to return home, said Hampton.
“There’s definitely mixed emotions that we’re all feeling here now; proud that we could take these steps, but also regret and shame, thinking that for over 100 years, she’s been gone from that territory and stewarded at the MacKenzie for so long without the same sense of care that she receives in that home community,” he said.
There are now questions over other works in the MacKenzie collection.
MacKenzie’s tours took him across Asia; he amassed a particularly large collection from China. At the time, many desperate, starving Chinese people were selling anything they had to survive.
According to MacKenzie’s own notes — which are also chronicled in a 2010 journal article by University of Regina professor emeritus Gail Chin — he talked to a Japanese diplomat about his desire to possess a “valuable Chinese idol.”
The man directed MacKenzie to two temples in the city of Soochow, now called Suzhou, where MacKenzie would find a monk “so hungry that he would trade food for an icon.”
That’s exactly what MacKenzie did. He placed the icon in his hand luggage and brought it back to Canada. That bronze, seated Buddha is still sitting in the MacKenzie Art Gallery’s basement.
Chin has researched MacKenzie’s Chinese collection, including the Buddha statue. In the 2010 article, she said MacKenzie’s goal of bringing the world’s art to the Canadian Prairies was noble on one level. But looking closer, she wrote, MacKenzie “wished for others to stand in awe of his taste, wealth and social position.”
In an interview with CBC News this week, Chin was asked how she feels about Norman MacKenzie today. She paused for several seconds before answering.
“Well, I suspect that Norman MacKenzie would probably ask me to shine his shoes,” said Chin, a third-generation Chinese Canadian.
“That was the social order back then, and I accept that. Society has changed, evolved. At least I hope so. Because along with Indigenous people, we all hope and pray for reconciliation.”
There are also questions about MacKenzie’s acquisitions of sacred religious items from other countries.
In 1930, MacKenzie bought a sculpture used in a funeral service in the Syrian region of Palmyra from controversial dealer Edgar Banks.
According to the journal Syria Archeology, Art and History, Banks looted dozens of sites across the Middle East and had been fired by the University of Chicago and other institutions for his unscrupulous practices in the years before that sale to MacKenzie.
Reconciliation as a central goal
The MacKenzie collection also contains scores of North American Indigenous art. Much of that was purchased directly from First Nations artists, but it will all be part of the 2,000-piece review now underway, Hampton said, who grew up in Regina and is a citizen of the Chickasaw Nation in the southern U.S.
Not all First Nations or international art was stolen or obtained unethically, said McMaster, a citizen of the Siksika Nation in Alberta, who grew up on the Red Pheasant Cree Nation near North Battleford, Sask.
But much of it was, he said, and the truth must come out.
The “colonial mentality” that allowed MacKenzie to steal art is the same mentality that allowed powerful white men to create the residential school system, McMaster said.
McMaster said three things need to happen at the MacKenzie and other galleries after the truth is exposed.
First, the talents and rights of these artists and cultures must be acknowledged.
Second, items must be returned to their rightful owners and communities, wherever possible.
Third, it’s time to debate whether to keep names like MacKenzie on galleries and museums.
Floyd Favel, the curator of the Chief Poundmaker Museum, a new gallery and museum on the Poundmaker Cree Nation near North Battleford, Sask., agreed. His main goal is to repatriate any items stolen from his First Nation.
“One of the root causes of major institutions being in possession of stolen art or artifacts is due to racism; those institutions feeling that those people or that artist or that group is not worthy of that very beautiful work of art, whereas we are, because we’re colonialists and we have a big museum,” said Favel.
It’s unclear how long the MacKenzie investigation will take. The gallery hopes to hire someone dedicated to that work and is searching for funding sources, Hampton said.
While some of MacKenzie’s actions were deplorable, Hampton said, any discussion should balance these “very glaring blind spots” with the positive aspects. For example, MacKenzie was a firm believer that art should be seen by all, even hosting exhibitions for the general public in his own home.
As for the gallery itself — which opened two decades after MacKenzie’s death — it was the first in Canada to host a show by Indigenous artists. Many of its curators and senior staff in recent years are Indigenous and from other diverse backgrounds. And reconciliation through art is now one of the gallery’s central goals, said Hampton.
“I think that there’s still a lot to admire about Norman MacKenzie and how he went about building his collection and thinking about the community here,” he said. “There’s a lot to be celebrated, and then there’s these elements that he needs to be held accountable.”
Restoration of Michelangelo’s Pieta statue in Florence reveals flaws in marble
The restoration of Michelangelo’s famed Pieta dell’Opera del Duomo in Florence has revealed that the single block of marble from which the masterpiece was sculpted was flawed, offering a likely reason for why it was abandoned before it was completed.
The statue, better known as the Bandini Pieta, represents the Virgin Mary and Mary Magdalene holding the body of Christ as he is taken down from the cross by a man, Nicodemus, whose face is the self-portrait of the Italian Renaissance artist.
“It’s a Pieta that has suffered and is very intimate… it is a really personal statue,” Beatrice Agostini, director of the restoration project, told Reuters.
The works of restoration confirmed that the 2,700 kg piece of marble had veins and numerous minute cracks, particularly on the base, which may have been the reason for Michelangelo’s decision to stop working on the sculpture before finishing it, a statement said.
The artist had initially planned to place the sculpture next to his tomb but only years after beginning to sculpt it, in the mid 1500s, a then 75-year old Michelangelo decided to abandon the masterpiece, giving it as a gift to a servant, who then sold it to a banker, Francesco Bandini.
Restorers did not find any sign of hammer blows, making it unlikely the widespread hypothesis that an unhappy Michelangelo tried to destroy the sculpture in a moment of frustration, the statement added.
The non-invasive restoration started in 2019 but was interrupted several times due to the COVID-19 epidemic. Deposits were removed from the sculpture’s surface, which was then cleaned, bringing it back to its original hue.
The project was commissioned and directed by the Opera di Santa Maria del Fiore and was financed by U.S. non-profit organization Friends of Florence.
“The operation has restored to the world the beauty of one of Michelangelo’s most intense and troubled masterpieces,” a joint statement said.
Visitors have been able to witness all stages of the process as the statue was always on display, in an open laboratory, on a platform, behind a glass screen.
(Reporting by Matteo Berlenga in Florence, writing by Giulia Segreti in Rome, editing by Angus MacSwan)
Art Beat: Arts Council keeps its friends close – Coast Reporter
Until Feb. 6, the Sunshine Coast Arts Council is exhibiting works by its members in a variety of mediums.
The annual “Friends of the Gallery” show is hosted in the Doris Crowston Gallery of the Sunshine Coast Arts Centre, at 5714 Medusa Street, in Sechelt.
Now in its 20th year, the “Friends” event began as a way to encourage emerging artists. Today, individual artists from the community are invited to submit one piece of work they completed in the previous year to be shown in the group exhibition.
Artworks are also available for purchase.
Youth Urged to Float Beachcombers-Inspired Creations
The Sunshine Coast Writers and Editors Society describes itself as “a magnet for creative souls on the Coast.” To mark this year’s golden jubilee of The Beachcombers, the iconic CBC Television program, the society is seeking to attract young creative souls through an art and writing contest.
Various types of submissions are welcome, including short stories, creative nonfiction, poetry, scripts, cover artwork and colouring for the planned anthology and exhibit.
Written entries must contain at least one reference to The Beachcombers, the Coast or the beach. Allusions to jet boat manoeuvres and amicable ribbing at the lunch counter of Molly’s Reach are likely assets as well.
Details are online on the Society’s website at scwes.ca. Submissions must be received by midnight on June 1.
Family Literacy Week: Tales on Trails
The Province of British Columbia has proclaimed Jan. 24 to 31 as Family Literacy Week, marking the fifth successive year that Family Literacy Day (Jan. 27) has overflowed with a sevenfold increase in bookish intensity.
“Children’s literacy skills expand and grow much faster when families read, play and learn together,” said Jennifer Whiteside, B.C.’s Minister of Education. “Family Literacy Week is a great opportunity to focus on dynamic ways to support our youngest learners so they can develop the skills they need to succeed in their school years and beyond.”
Decoda Literacy Solutions, a province-wide literacy organization, is hosting a photo contest. Participants may take a photo using a “Let’s Be Active” theme and submit it by email to email@example.com or post it on social media using these hashtags: #LetsBeActive and #FLW2022. There will be a class prize and a prize for individuals.
To mark the occasion, the Gibsons and District Public Library has encouraged families to host “reading walks” in which families and individuals stroll through local parks, reading along to stories.
The Coast Reporter encourages all such literary ramblers to glance up from time to time, in order to avoid mid-chapter collisions incurred while covering one’s tracks.
Library Line: Parrott Art Gallery open to viewers online – Belleville Intelligencer
By Wendy Rayson-Kerr
Although the Parrott Gallery is closed until at least January 26 due to public health restrictions, we are still working to bring you art. We hope that our awesome gallery supporters will sign onto our website to view new virtual exhibitions, participate in online art workshops and register for free Armchair Traveller presentations on Zoom. We’ll also be increasing our social media posts, so please follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram to view artwork from our current exhibitions as well as from our permanent collection, because everyone could use a little more art in their life right now!
Coming next: The Bay of Quinte Modern Quilt Guild is presenting an exhibition called, “Outside the Block” which will be available to view online through our website starting on Saturday, January 22. The traditional Log Cabin Quilt design, generally speaking, starts with a center shape which is surrounded by strips of coloured pieces that follow a specific sequence of light and dark patterning. Colours have meanings in these quilts, whose shapes can be seen to symbolize log cabins with both dark and sunny corners, and much has been written about their connection to North American pioneers. In our upcoming exhibition, this traditional pattern has been given a modern interpretation. The twenty quilters represented in this group show have all used the Log Cabin Quilt pattern as their inspiration, resulting with an assortment of unique designs. Each artwork is as original as the artists themselves, and we certainly hope you will log in to view them on our website (for now) as well as get the chance to view them in our gallery in the near future.
Another exhibition that will soon be available to view online is called “Corona and Friends” by George Kratz. This prolific Stirling artist has assembled a large collection of paintings that he has been working on over the past two decades. He describes his Corona series as, “an abstract journey” which he completed during the pandemic. The earlier work in his Friends series is equally intense, full of symbolism both borrowed and unique to the artist. George Kratz is a story-teller and this exhibition tells the story of vivid colour, strong lines and imagery you will not soon forget.
Both of these online shows will be available to view in person when we are allowed to re-open our doors once again.
We continue to offer Online Acrylic Pouring Workshops at the Parrott Gallery. These monthly projects are meant for beginners and skilled artists alike, and are the perfect way to learn knew creative skills. Prepared and presented by Warkworth artist Sheila Wright, these workshops are fun and easy to complete. Each kit costs thirty dollars and contains all you will need to create a unique artwork, including materials and video instructions. The January project is a painting called “Rainbow Swipe” and the deadline to register is Saturday, January 22. Please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or call us as 613-968-6731 x 2040 if you are interested or would like more information.
On February 19, Photographer Lydia Dotto will be sharing her online Armchair Traveller presentation on the Antarctic. From the comfort of your own home you can take a journey across the globe, for free! “The Antarctic: Abundance of Life” is your chance to view a place that most of us will never have the chance to visit. You can register for this live Zoom presentation through our website. When we re-open our doors, our Corridor Gallery will feature the photography of Susan and Clint Guy, in a show they have called “India: The Golden Triangle”. Plans for an in-person presentation are also under way, so stay tuned for this next part of our Armchair Traveller Series.
We know 2022 is going to be an exciting year of exhibitions and programs here at the Parrott Gallery, so we won’t let the current closures discourage us. We hope that we will be open for in-person viewing again soon.
Wendy Rayson-Kerr is the Acting Curator of the John M. Parrott Art Gallery
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