Art Gallery of Alberta

Public Program Archive

Symposium: Indigenous Aesthetics & the Remaking of Art History

On June 24, 2012, the AGA held a symposium entitled Indigenous Aesthetics and the Remaking of Art History. Leading scholars gathered at the Art Gallery of Alberta for this program that was held in conjunction with the exhibition ALEX JANVIER, an exhibition that surveyed the 50 year artistic career of the Alberta artist. At the symposium, diverse subject matter was considered, such as the role of Aboriginal people in early broadcast media; the Aboriginal Group of Seven and their aesthetic innovations that challenged the hierarchies of ‘modernism’ in Canada; as well as Indigenous art production within a global context. The purpose of this event was to bring forward little-known Aboriginal art histories and examine particular art practices from new points of view and methodologies. This symposium was led and moderated by Candice Hopkins, and featured Marcia Crosby, Richard William Hill, Lee-Ann Martin and Jolene Rickard.

Opening Remarks with Candice Hopkins

Candice Hopkins is the Elizabeth Simonfay Assistant Curator, Indigenous Art, at the National Gallery of Canada and formerly Director and Curator of exhibitions, the Western Front, Vancouver. She has an MA from the Center for Curatorial Studies and Art in Contemporary Culture, Bard College, New York, where she received the Ramapo Curatorial Prize for the exhibition Every Stone Tells a Story: The Performance Work of David Hammons and Jimmie Durham (2004). Her writing has been published by MIT Press, BlackDog Publishing, New York University, Catriona Jeffries Gallery, Fillip, Banff Centre Press and National Museum of the American Indian, among others, and she has lectured at venues including the Witte de With, Tate Modern, Dakar Biennale, Tate Britain and the University of British Columbia. In 2011, she was guest curator of Zone A for Nuit Blanche, Toronto, and in 2010 co-curator of Close Encounters: The Next 500 Years for Plug In ICA in Winnipeg. Hopkins is an invited speaker for dOCUMENTA(13) for the symposium “Sovereign Imagination: Art of First Nations Peoples in the Contemporary Field.”

Keynote Address: Making Aesthetics Indigenous? with Jolene Rickard

Does the aesthetic practice of Indigenous peoples remain subjugate within the field of Art History or has the discipline shifted? Emergent framings in the connective space between the past and present are currently being recast as “comparative modernities or multiple modernisms.” The broader category of Indigenous has eclipsed nation-state categorizations like American Indian or First Nations in the field of Native and Indigenous Studies. Is this merely word play or is change happening? These questions and observations were debated through art world exploits in academia, museum exhibitions and the spectacle of biennales.

Jolene Rickard, Ph.D. is a visual historian, artist and curator interested in the issues of Indigeneity within a global context. She is the Director for the American Indian Program at Cornell University and an associate professor in the History of Art and Visual Studies and Art Departments. Recent essays include “Visualizing Sovereignty in the Time of Biometric Sensors,” in The South Atlantic Quarterly: Sovereignty, Indigeneity, and the Law (2011), “Skin Seven Spans Thick,” in Hide: Skin as Material and Metaphor (2010), “Absorbing or Obscuring the Absence of a Critical Space in the Americas for Indigeneity: The Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian,” in RES: Anthropology and Aesthetics (2007), and Rebecca Belmore: Fountain (2005) by Jolene Rickard and Jessica Bradley, Morris and Helen Belkin Gallery and Kamloops Art Gallery/ . Recent projects include: Advisor to the National Gallery of Canada in preparation for an international survey of Indigenous art in 2013, also identified as the first Quinquennial of Indigenous Art (Ottawa); a participant in the Cornell/Duke 54th Venice Biennale Dialogue (Italy) 2011; and co-curator for the inaugural exhibition for the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian (Washington, D.C.) 2004. Rickard is from the Tuscarora Nation territories in western New York.

Alex Janvier: “Canada’s First Indian Modernist” with Lee-Ann Martin

Eschewing clichéd and stereotypical imagery while at art school in the mid-1950s, Alex Janvier has been at the vanguard of Aboriginal art for over fifty years. Here Lee-Ann Martin discusses Janvier’s early approaches to modernism and abstraction as well as the artistic framework within which he worked in the 1960s.

Lee-Ann Martin is the Curator of Contemporary Canadian Aboriginal Art at the Canadian Museum of Civilization in Gatineau, Quebec and is the former Head Curator of the MacKenzie Art Gallery in Regina. She has curated, written and lectured extensively on contemporary Aboriginal art both nationally and internationally over the past 25 years. Her writing has been published by Oxford University Press, University of Washington Press, Banff Centre Press and National Museum of the American Indian, among others. Martin’s recent curatorial projects include Close Encounters: The Next 500 Years for Plug In ICA in Winnipeg and the nationally touring exhibition, Bob Boyer: His Life’s Work, for the MacKenzie Art Gallery.

Thoughts on Indigenous Ontologies, the ‘New Materialism’ and Aesthetics with Richard William Hill

Photo credit: Bev taking a photo of a fresco in a reconstructed room from the House of Livia, Museo Nazionale Romano, Rome, Italy, 2011. Photograph: Richard William Hill

For this presentation, Hill works from the assumption that aesthetic criteria are primarily culturally situated, but that in our current globalized situation there are no cultures and thus no aesthetic criteria that are pure unto themselves, discrete or autonomous from trans-cultural influence. Given that (and other complications) he remains skeptical that there is a current “indigenous aesthetic” as such, but will argue that there are indigenous intellectual traditions and perspectives that influence the work of many contemporary artists of indigenous heritage. To this end, he has found it helpful to explore what is often referred to as the ‘new materialism,’ particularly those threads that attempt work beyond binaries of nature and culture and recognize the shared agency between human beings, non-human beings and things in the world.

Richard William Hill is assistant professor of art history at York University and an independent critic and curator. As a curator at the Art Gallery of Ontario, he oversaw the museum’s first substantial effort to include North American Aboriginal art and ideas in permanent collection galleries and also curated Kazuo Nakamura: A Human Measure, a survey of the artist’s work. In 2005, he co-curated, with Jimmie Durham, The American West at Compton Verney, England. His most recent curatorial project, The World Upside Down, originated at the Walter Phillips Gallery and travelled to a number of Canadian venues. Hill’s essays on art have appeared in numerous books, exhibition catalogues and periodicals. He has a long association with the Canadian art magazine Fuse, where he was a member of the board and editorial committee and remains a contributing editor. He is currently working on a book on the question of agency in the art of Jimmie Durham, the subject of his Ph.D. thesis.

Aboriginal Cultural Production in Unlikely Urban Spaces with Marcia Crosby

Drawing from her PhD dissertation, Aboriginal Cultural Production in Unlikely Urban Spaces, Marcia Crosby examines the theoretical, textual and historical matrix of what is modern, modernism and modernity in local and global contexts. Here she focuses on Alert Bay (Tlawitsis) artist, hereditary chief, ceremonialist and community leader Henry Speck, or Udzi’stalis (1908 – 1971), and his 1964 exhibit at the New Design Gallery in downtown Vancouver.

Marcia Crosby is a writer, art historian and educator whose work interrogates mainstream representations and historical narratives of First Nations peoples and cultures. Crosby has a Bachelor of Arts in Fine Arts and a minor in English (1990), a Master of Arts in Cultural History (1993) and is currently a PhD Candidate in Art History at the University of British Columbia. Since 1996, Crosby has taught First Nations Studies at Vancouver Island University. Her first curatorial project was as guest curator and writer for the exhibition Nations in Urban Landscapes at the Contemporary Art Gallery, Vancouver (1994). Her essays in this catalogue consider the works of Shelly Niro, Faye Heavyshield and Eric Robertson, and the other essay investigates how the geo-political discourse between Canadian and First Nations governments over land issues have shaped cultural practice in museums and galleries. Since 2001, she has added a number of essays on contemporary art history on topics as diverse as The Myth of Bill Reid, the sculptural works of Argentinian artist, Dina Gomez and aboriginal performance art, which includes two recently published essays on the multi-media works of Rebecca Belmore.

Panel Discussion and Q&A