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Let’s all take a deep breath… May 16, 2007

Posted by bethnology in Aboriginal Art.

As we continue to refine our storyline, I keep coming back to the working title of our exhibit – “A Breath of Fresh Air” – to help define our overarching theme. It’s finally starting to feel like spring in Calgary, and it feels like we are all emerging from our winter hibernation. I have the same feeling about the exhibit. It’s a slow process to bring together our different voices, thoughts and opinions and to also narrow our focus. It feels like we keep adding things in, rather than refining our ideas down. We also love the art we are looking at, and our artifact list is growing too large. However, I’m an optimist, and I think we are slowly and surely moving forward.

Our marketing people aren’t too keen on the title, since it is not immediately self explanatory. But to me, it explains many things. We are literally bringing many traditional art items out of the storage cupboards to be viewed for the first time in years. We are also featuring the art made by the Aboriginal peoples of the Northern Plains and the Subarctic regions – these areas are not often featured in art exhibits, so we are asking our audience to consider a new and fresh style of art. Many of these art pieces were made for daily use in the outdoors. Rather than a static display, we also hope to incorporate some movement within the exhibit, so the spirit of the artifact will be reawakened and its history renewed.

So I am taking a deep breath – enjoying the fresh air of spring, feeling the wind on my face, taking pleasure in our ongoing curatorial discussions, learning something new every day and loving looking at lots of art.


Storyline – draft copy…. April 6, 2007

Posted by kakakwa in Aboriginal Art.
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Well, we are continually working towards February 2008, when this exhibit will open. Our team of 4 individuals has been both rewarding and interesting and I am sure that we will have an extremely wonderful exhibit. Our process has been very lengthy and there has been many meetings, with discussions and viewings. The amount and quality of ‘Art’-ifacts in the collection is both overwhelming and simply marvellous. I’ve had many reactions to things that we’ve already viewed and can’t help but feel lucky to be a part of this team. I done a lot of research of the art of the First Nations Peoples and to my amazement I’ve come across designs and art that I’ve never seen before. I guess, for the most part, you the viewer will have to wait for the exhibit to see these things.

At this time we’ve also been working on where we would like to take this exhibit. The following is another draft on where we would like to take this exhibit. Read on and remember to follow this blog to keep abreast of where we are in the process of putting this exhibit together.

“A Breath of Fresh Air”
Aboriginal Art from Canada’s Prairie Provinces and the Western sub-Arctic
(Note: This storyline is a work in draft)

“Art” has always been a part of the daily lives of First Nations people. They wore art; they lived with it; and they used it to explore the world of the ancestors and the spiritual realm to which they belonged. Through art they connected with Source of All Life in many different and distinct ways.

Art continues to be an important part of people’s lives. Although people wear decorated clothing less often, they are an important part of traditional celebrations. Today, most people use mass-produced items and live in western-style houses. The art that was embedded in handcrafted tools and hand-made homes have all but disappeared. It does remain important in ceremonial items that call on the Source of All Life and the Ancestors for their help and guidance.

Contemporary artists, both established and emerging, continue the tradition of using art to reflect their experiences and to comment on their situation in society and in the world. Their art is an important in reminder to Canadian society of the unique relationship that First Nations have with this country and with the newcomers who now inhabit it.

This exhibit brings “A Breath of Fresh Air” to both the items in the exhibit and to the people who experience them. Many of these items have been in storage for decades. As they move from the cabinets to the exhibit space, they are given a breath of fresh air. Their spirit is reawakened and their history is renewed. Once more, they can communicate with human beings and tell us their stories.

For those who experience these items, “A Breath of Fresh Air” brings them the messages from the works of art. We can understand and appreciate the variety and the depth of the traditional art and the social commentary of the contemporary art. We will be shown the place Native people once held in the world and the roles they have been relegated in our society. We will recognize and be reawakened to the spirituality infuses everything. This “Breath of Fresh Air” brings an appreciation for the past, present and continuing contributions of Native people to our world.

The exhibit team includes a Cree artist, two Euro-Canadian ethnology curators, a Vietnamese-Canadian art curator, and a graduate student from France. This eclectic mix brings complex and sometimes contradictory perspectives to the exhibit process. Through our discussions and our intense workshops viewing the collections, four themes have emerged:

• Honour and Respect
o Art used to honour all people
o Art used to honour the plants, animals and all the other beings with whom humans co-exist
• Stories
o There are many different types of storytelling: winter counts; pictographs; ledger art; motifs and clothing styles
o Objects speak on behalf of the past, through the art that is part of them
o Sometimes specific stories are recounted through hide paintings or drawings done in ledgers
o “Legends” are the ancient history of a people; these stories can be embedded in motifs used in decoration and in the styles of clothing.
• Everyday Life
o The art work on everyday clothing reminds us of the loving hands of our ancestors and the strong relationships among every family member
o This art work reminds us that everything is interconnected. Art is not separate from our daily lives. Work is not separate from art.
o Our modern life focuses more on disconnection than it does on interconnection. Contemporary art that comments on this can help us to refocus our lives and redefine our priorities.
• Spirituality
o Spirituality includes more than the sacred material
o Spirituality is to be found embedded in all experiences
o Spirituality is reflected in everything made by human hands and in all forms of art.
Glenbow’s ethnology collection includes material from First Nations throughout Canada and the western United States. In order to make this exhibit manageable we must limit our scope and, by doing so, pass up a few First Nations. This is not to say that we negate their importance. But we must give the First Nations appropriate space and exposure – and opportunity to catch their Breath of Fresh Air. Therefore, we intend to focus on:
• Dene, Cree and Anishinabe people of the Subarctic
• Cree, Anishinabe, Blackfoot, Assiniboine, Nakoda, Dakota, and Tsuu T’ina people of the Plains
• Metis people

These are the people who lived, worked, hunted, played and died here in western Canada – including Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta.

“A Breath of Fresh Air” reflects the complexity of First Nations art – the variety of expression and the variety of meanings. The curatorial team reflects the complexity of contemporary Canadian society. The dialogue that will emerge will bring a “Breath of Fresh Air” to the representation of First Nations in museums and to the discussion of the role of their arts and cultures in Canadian society.

What’s our Story? March 16, 2007

Posted by quyencess in Aboriginal Art, First Nations Art.
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The curatorial team is made up of a diverse group of individuals: a Native artist, two Ethnology curators, me – the art curator – and an intern from France who is researching on the representation of Native art in museums and galleries. We have spent a couple sessions now going over different ideas for the exhibition and we are finding that we all have very different visions of how this exhibition should look.

My role on this curatorial team has yet to be defined. I struggle constantly between excitement and fear. There seems to be a tremendous amount of engaging and experimental Native art in contemporary practice which I would love to explore for this exhibition. Yet, I struggle with my role as a non-Native museum professional taking up issues that are not my own. I’m a Vietnamese immigrant. I have my own cultural and political issues…

I hope to provide a critical perspective and consider the social and political implications of our role as a museum in the way Native art and cultures will be viewed and understood.

At this point, we want to combine Glenbow’s ethnographic material and its art collection by First Nations cultures and look at the tenuous relationship between notions of art and artifact. It has been a long-standing point of contention that Native art has been defined as craft, tourist trinket or anthropological documentation as opposed to art. But is it enough for us to merely illustrate that this material is art?  And whose definition would we be using to frame these objects as art?

There have been conflicting and irreconcilable opinions about Native art among Native writers. Gerald McMaster has suggested that we look at Native art as part of an “interrelated history.” According to McMaster, “Although Aboriginal history is many thousands of years older and far more complex, our interrelated history as Canadians is a thousand years old. During this time we have traded in materials and ideas, lived and struggled together, pictured each other differently, and contributed to this country.” Yet, Loretta Todd suggests that a separate art history is required to achieve self-determination for Aboriginal peoples. She asks: “Should we not seek a scholarship of our own, articulated not simply by placing us as new participants in their discourse on art, but instead by placing us on a path that moves on its own course, sometimes in their same direction, but just as often according to its own flux and flow?”

How do we negotiate these different viewpoints?…