A decade ago some people still criticized the National Gallery of Canada for keeping indigenous art on the margins. While much has already changed since then, a giant exhibition this summer will leave no doubt that indigenous art is sidelined no more.
Sakahàn, the gallery’s big show for the summer of 2013, will be the largest exhibition ever mounted at the gallery, and the largest exhibition of contemporary indigenous art ever held in the world, according to curators. Early details were released by the gallery at a news conference on Monday.
Sakahàn — an Algonquin word for “to light a fire” — to run May 17 to Sept. 2. It will fill the gallery inside and out, and spill into other galleries in the city core. There’ll be ancillary exhibitions at the Ottawa Art Gallery, SAW Gallery, Carleton University Gallery, the Ottawa School of Art, the Aboriginal Art Centre and elsewhere.
Works by more than 75 artists from around the world will be included, and it’s a massive demonstration of how much the place of indigenous art has changed.
“Certainly in Canada we’ve seen a real change in the representation of indigenous art, not only at the National Gallery but across the country in terms of its collecting and its display,” said Greg Hill, the Audain curator of indigenous art at the gallery. “This is something that’s happening not just in Canada, it’s happening around the world. This global momentum is leading to this exhibition here. . . Having an exhibition like Sakahan is a very strong statement of how far the National Gallery is going to recognize the vitality of indigenous art.”
Gallery director Marc Mayer said he “can’t imagine anyone not being completely smitten by quite a few of these artists” whose work will be in the show.
“This is the new art being made by the finest artists we could attract to Ottawa from the indigenous people of the world,” Mayer said. “So it’s really a world cultural event and a historical cultural event for us. . . It’s a big deal.”
There’ll be tremendous variety in the types of artworks and in subject matter. It’s difficult to know what’ll stand out among artworks yet unseen, but a few works are potential highlights.
A giant banner, made by several artists, will hang from the roof along the length of the long ramp that leads from the main entrance up to the Great Hall. In another room will be Jimmie Durham’s Encore Tranquillité, which is an airplane — a full-sized, propellor-driven plane” — that has been crushed almost in two by a large boulder. On a smaller scale, Brian Jungen’s ordinary plastic gas can, decorated with what looks like Native bead work, is exquisite.
Another work, to be created for the exhibition, is Blanket Stories: Seven Generations, Adawe and Hearth, by Marie Watt. “Member of the public are invited to trade a blanket and share their story with the artists, who will incorporate their contribution into the installation. In exchange, donors will receive a limited edition print from the artist.” See more details at gallery.ca/sakahan.
Mayer also announced that the gallery will soon undertake a major project to replace the panes of glass in the Great Hall. More to come on that project soon.