Before and After the Horizon @ the AGO
If you're due for a visit to the Art Galley of Ontario, now is the time to go. Until November 25, 2014 a special exhibit of Anishinaabe art is interspersed among the permanent Canadian Collection and included in the price of general admission. Before and After the Horizon: Annishinaabe Artists of the Great Lakes aims to extend the scope of the Canadian Collection to include a greater representation of Native American art and craftwork. This particular exhibit is the first to focus on the work of the Anishinaabe people, whose traditional homelands include Ontario, Quebec, and Manitoba. The Great Lakes region and the very land upon which the AGO was built is of particular significance as both a centre of Anishinaabe cultural life and the backdrop for many history-changing encounters with French and British settlers. So it's about time we see some work by these artists in our city's major gallery.
Before and After the Horizon includes painting, sculpture, and photography by contemporary Anishinaabe artists as well as craft pieces and everyday items by mostly unknown artisans from the past two centuries. Drums, clothing pieces, and satchels are among some of the intricately beaded and decorated artefacts that are now on display. The mix of mediums and time periods highlights the relationship between artisan and artist, past and present, and the ways in which a culture develops and expresses itself over time. We can see how the works of long-dead artists influence their descendants and how those contemporary Anishinaabe artists express with their cultural history in their pieces.
If you look closely at this sculpture, you can see the outline of North America imprinted in the copper. This piece connects the geography of our part of the world with the raw materials under its surface and "opens" the exhibit as one of the first pieces in the gallery. According to the artist, Michael Belmore, copper is a popular material in Native culture. Belmore's ancestors would have used copper from the shores of Lake Superior to make tools and weapons. Today has become an essential resource globally by providing a key component in modern electrics and construction. This sculpture emphasizes copper as an underpinning of North American life regardless of time period or political boundary.
Norval Morrisseau paints the very European figure of Jesus Christ in a style associated with Native American art. Here we see where the Old and New Worlds collide and bring two disparate cultures together.
In the photo above we see artist Bonnie Devine at work on one of my favourite pieces in the exhibit: Battle for the Woodlands. Devine has painted over a mural map of Upper and Lower Canada as charted by European settlers. Her superimposed paintings trace the travels of Native American leader Tecumseh in the early 1800s and turn each of the great lakes into an animal significant to Anishinaabe culture. Her map also marks important locations where Native Americans and Europeans met and negotiated the paths of history. This full-scale installation challenges our traditional cartography and marries two ways of looking at the topography of our land.
If you're looking for a more well-rounded take on Canadian art which includes more than just Europeans and their descendants, make sure to head to the AGO before November 25 to see Before and After the Horizon. It's a lovely extension of the Canadian Collection and I hope that some pieces may find a permanent home in those galleries.
Adult General Admission to the AGO is $19.50 and is FREE on Wednesdays from 6pm-8:30pm.
For more information on this exhibit click here.