Mu­seum En­coun­ters of An­other Kind: In­dige­nous Method­olo­gies of Col­lab­o­ra­tion Lead the Charge


Inuit Art Quarterly - - CON­TENTS - Julie Nagam

A scholar and cu­ra­tor re­flects on the var­i­ous projects the Win­nipeg Art Gallery has un­der­taken to cen­tre Win­nipeg as the heart of In­dige­nous con­tem­po­rary art in Canada to­day, from new cu­ra­to­rial ap­proaches to the cam­paign for a new Inuit Art Cen­tre, as well as the work still ahead.

Since the late 1980s, mu­se­ums have been re­think­ing their en­gage­ment with In­dige­nous peo­ples to vary­ing de­grees of suc­cess. At the Win­nipeg Art Gallery, this com­mit­ment is be­ing made tan­gi­ble through In­dige­nous-led projects and spa­ces, in­clud­ing the cre­ation of the Inuit Art Cen­tre. The Win­nipeg Art Gallery (WAG) is on a quest to fig­ure out what a “new mu­seum” looks like, feels like and acts like, par­tic­u­larly in re­la­tion to cen­tring In­dige­nous ide­olo­gies. The WAG is ex­per­i­ment­ing with new meth­ods of mu­seum prac­tices that are rooted in In­dige­nous world­views. This is a rad­i­cal de­par­ture from its past and from mu­seum and gallery pro­cesses more broadly. It wants to un­pack its me­chan­ics, in­clud­ing guid­ing prin­ci­ples, pro­to­cols and values, dy­nam­ics (both in­ter­ac­tions and re­la­tion­ships) and aes­thet­ics (both vis­ual and emo­tional). The gallery wants to be­come a space that pushes the bound­aries of the twenty-first-cen­tury mu­seum.

To date, there have been very few per­ma­nent po­si­tions of in­flu­ence in the or­ga­ni­za­tional struc­tures and cu­ra­tion of In­dige­nous arts that are oc­cu­pied by In­dige­nous pro­fes­sion­als.1 While there has been some move­ment for In­dige­nous artists to con­trib­ute to larger col­lec­tions and

ex­hi­bi­tions, in­sti­tu­tions across Canada have not made con­certed ef­forts to de­col­o­nize or shift their Euro­cen­tric mod­els, method­olo­gies or prac­tices. Such prac­tices are based on an out­dated, top-down model of avant-garde, ob­ject-based art that priv­i­leges a par­tic­u­lar kind of art and artist—pre­dom­i­nantly art created by and for an elite, white, male pub­lic. Past mu­seum and gallery dis­plays have given lit­tle space for In­dige­nous con­tem­po­rary art, or have dis­played these col­lec­tions with very lit­tle in­put from In­dige­nous peo­ples, pro­fes­sion­als or com­mu­nity mem­bers. In Canada over 25 years ago, Lee-Ann Martin created a list of rec­om­men­da­tions to in­crease In­dige­nous par­tic­i­pa­tion in these po­si­tions.2 More re­cently the Truth and Rec­on­cil­i­a­tion Com­mis­sion of Canada (TRC) has is­sued 94 calls to ac­tion in or­der to ad­dress and rec­tify the per­va­sive in­flu­ence of colo­nial­ism on In­dige­nous peo­ples. Call to Ac­tion #67 states, “We call upon the fed­eral gov­ern­ment to pro­vide fund­ing to the Cana­dian Mu­se­ums As­so­ci­a­tion to un­der­take, in col­lab­o­ra­tion with Abo­rig­i­nal peo­ples, a na­tional re­view of mu­seum poli­cies and best prac­tices to de­ter­mine the level of com­pli­ance with the United Na­tions Dec­la­ra­tion on the Rights of In­dige­nous Peo­ples and to make rec­om­men­da­tions.”3 To date, nei­ther Martin’s nor the TRC’s rec­om­men­da­tions have been im­ple­mented on a broad scale.

Mu­se­ums and gal­leries need to shift from these out­dated mod­els and move into the new era of col­lab­o­ra­tion, en­gage­ment and in­clu­sion for all peo­ples across the globe. Art can rup­ture spa­ces, spark dif­fi­cult di­a­logues and cre­ate knowl­edge for gen­er­a­tions to come, in pub­lic spa­ces, in gal­leries and on the street. For me, the fu­ture is en­vi­sioned as In­dige­nous col­lab­o­ra­tion, com­mu­ni­ca­tion and men­tor­ship with all arts or­ga­ni­za­tions and uni­ver­si­ties. The prin­ci­ples of In­dige­nous method­olo­gies are col­lab­o­ra­tion, learn­ing by do­ing, con­sul­ta­tion with com­mu­nity ex­perts, cre­ative in­ter­ven­tion, work­ing with an in­ter­gen­er­a­tional fo­cus, knowl­edge, men­tor­ship and lis­ten­ing to sto­ries or voices of dif­fer­ent stake­hold­ers and com­mu­nity mem­bers.4 Whether it has been co-cu­rat­ing, co-writ­ing, artist col­lab­o­ra­tions, Indi­g­e­niz­ing in­sti­tu­tions, de­vel­op­ing new aca­demic pro­grams or build­ing new mu­se­ums, gal­leries, ad­vi­sory boards or re­search projects, the crux of my own pro­fes­sional suc­cess is in the in­her­ent value of work­ing col­lec­tively. Trans­posed into the mu­seum, col­lab­o­ra­tion builds ca­pac­ity and at the same time al­lows in­sti­tu­tions to rad­i­cally push back against the bound­aries of Euro­cen­tric, mas­cu­line con­cepts of con­tem­po­rary art, prac­tices and method­olo­gies. In­dige­nous schol­ars, artists, cu­ra­tors and ad­min­is­tra­tors are agents for so­cial change. Their pres­ence al­ters the in­sti­tu­tional en­vi­ron­ment be­cause they bring with them their com­mu­nity and a cul­tural and em­bod­ied knowl­edge into that space.

At the WAG, I work di­rectly with In­dige­nous cu­ra­tor and artist Jaimie Isaac, who is the Cu­ra­tor of In­dige­nous and Con­tem­po­rary Art, which was ini­tially a Canada Coun­cil-funded res­i­dency and is now a per­ma­nent po­si­tion. This is a mas­sive gain for the WAG and marks a sig­nif­i­cant shift in Cana­dian art and mu­seum prac­tices. Our work at the WAG ad­dresses the his­tor­i­cal gap in the in­sti­tu­tion’s pro­gram­ming of and en­gage­ment with In­dige­nous artists, cu­ra­tors, ad­min­is­tra­tors and au­di­ences. By cre­at­ing roles within the WAG for

In­dige­nous peo­ples’ con­tri­bu­tions and em­ploy­ment, we have be­gun to ad­dress is­sues of rec­on­cil­i­a­tion as well as the TRC’s calls to ac­tion. We will co-cu­rate the first Con­tem­po­rary In­dige­nous Art Tri­en­nial at the WAG for fall 2017, ti­tled IN­SUR­GENCE/RESUR­GENCE, which is spon­sored out­side of the Canada 150 Fund.5 I note this be­cause Canada 150 fund­ing has been tied to the colo­nial an­niver­sary of Canada as the birth of a coun­try with very lit­tle re­flec­tion on the In­dige­nous his­tory that pre­dates that con­fed­er­a­tion. In a short time, we have built ac­cess to el­ders, stu­dents and ad­vi­sors for ex­hi­bi­tions, events and sup­port for the con­tent and lan­guage. We have in­creased the amount of In­dige­nous peo­ple en­gaged with the WAG. In the past year, Isaac has cu­rated some dy­namic ex­hi­bi­tions, in­clud­ing Boarder X (2017), Quayuk­tchi­gaewin: Mak­ing Good (2016) and We Are on Treaty Land (2015-16). All have been di­rectly linked to learn­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties for stu­dents from the Uni­ver­sity of Win­nipeg, such as con­fer­ences, com­mu­nity events and other pro­gram­ming. She has also built last­ing re­la­tion­ships with the Treaty Re­la­tions Com­mis­sion of Man­i­toba and the TRC, among oth­ers. The WAG is also work­ing with these or­ga­ni­za­tions and oth­ers to fur­ther their pro­gram­ming and ex­hi­bi­tions.

An­other enor­mous project cur­rently un­der­way is the WAG’s Inuit Art Cen­tre (IAC), which is part of the larger Indi­g­e­niza­tion of the gallery. The cen­tre will be the first of its kind and will house the world’s largest col­lec­tion of Inuit art. What re­mains to be de­ter­mined is how this space, ac­ti­vated and oc­cu­pied by Inuit art and cul­ture, will in­te­grate into larger lo­cal ecolo­gies, both In­dige­nous and non-In­dige­nous, and how this im­mense project will help the in­sti­tu­tion open it­self up to be­come a space that en­gages the larger pub­lic and sets the tone for a new way for­ward for In­dige­nous re­la­tions and mu­seum/gallery dis­play and en­gage­ment. The WAG’s ex­pan­sive col­lec­tion came to be through the in­ter­ests of its past di­rec­tor Fer­di­nand Eck­hardt, who be­gan his ten­ure in 1953, as well as Jean Blod­gett, Ber­nadette Driscoll, Marie Bouchard and cur­rent Cu­ra­tor of Inuit Art at the WAG Dar­lene Coward Wight, who have all con­trib­uted in shap­ing this col­lec­tion. Over the past three decades in par­tic­u­lar, Coward Wight has built a col­lec­tion to­tal­ing more than 13,000 works. In ad­di­tion to pur­chased and do­nated works, the WAG has also re­cently ac­quired pieces from the now-closed Mu­seum of Inuit Art in Toronto and holds in trust the Gov­ern­ment of Nu­navut Fine Art Col­lec­tion. The gov­ern­ment’s col­lec­tion, which in­cludes al­most 8,000 pieces, is held at the WAG un­der a five-year con­tract. How­ever, the re­al­ity is that this term will likely need to be ex­tended even though there is a strong de­sire to have that ma­te­rial cul­ture re­turn home.

For In­dige­nous method­olo­gies, it is cru­cial the WAG is com­mit­ted to train­ing Inuit cul­tural work­ers who will play a crit­i­cal role in the man­age­ment of this col­lec­tion and these works. Within the larger In­dige­nous art com­mu­nity there have been lit­tle gains for Inuit artists, cu­ra­tors, ad­min­is­tra­tors and schol­ars in terms of op­por­tu­ni­ties and train­ing. The WAG hopes to de­part from these prece­dents to build new op­por­tu­ni­ties in both the South and the North for In­dige­nous en­gage­ment in this kind of work, with a spe­cific fo­cus on Inuit ad­vance­ments in the cul­tural sec­tor. WAG Di­rec­tor and CEO Stephen Borys states:

The Inuit Art Cen­tre project has en­abled us to re­think and re­work the ped­a­go­gies and tem­plates used thus far to col­lect, doc­u­ment and present Inuit art. While the Win­nipeg Art Gallery holds an out­stand­ing in­ter­na­tional record of ex­hi­bi­tions and schol­ar­ship on the sub­ject—over 180 ex­hi­bi­tions and 50 pub­li­ca­tions—the vast ma­jor­ity of this ma­te­rial has been pro­duced by non-In­dige­nous schol­ars.

With the new cen­tre, we must en­sure that the voice lead­ing and in­form­ing the di­a­logue on Inuit art and cul­ture at the

WAG and across Canada is first an Inuit voice. This is not to negate the schol­ar­ship pro­duced to date, in­clud­ing the re­spected work of WAG cu­ra­tors over the last sixty-five years; how­ever, a di­ver­sity of per­spec­tives, start­ing with the In­dige­nous per­spec­tive, is crit­i­cal…if gal­leries and the IAC are go­ing to suc­ceed.

As the WAG moves for­ward with con­struc­tion of the cen­tre, the ten­sions of build­ing and fo­cus­ing on Inuit art and cul­ture in Win­nipeg have be­come in­creas­ingly present. The IAC will be built in the heart of Tur­tle Is­land, where great wa­ter­ways meet, at the site of the ori­gin of In­dige­nous Treaty Rights within the colo­nial state of Canada, Treaty One ter­ri­tory and the heart­land of the Métis. Win­nipeg is home to one of the largest and fastest grow­ing In­dige­nous pop­u­la­tions in Canada, and Inuit make up the small­est group of peo­ple who call Man­i­toba home. It is im­por­tant to un­der­stand that there are many na­tions that fall un­der the um­brella term In­dige­nous and a colo­nial tac­tic has been to di­vide and con­quer by cre­at­ing di­vi­sions be­tween In­dige­nous na­tions. For the IAC to be suc­cess­ful by any mea­sure, the WAG will have to have strong in­put from these com­mu­ni­ties. As a foun­da­tional step, the WAG has created an In­dige­nous Ad­vi­sory Cir­cle, of which I am a co-chair along with my Inuk col­league and col­lab­o­ra­tor Heather Iglo­liorte. This Ad­vi­sory Cir­cle is made up of rep­re­sen­ta­tives from the four re­gions of Inuit Nu­nan­gat, as well as ur­ban Inuit, along­side First Na­tions and Métis rep­re­sen­ta­tives from Man­i­toba and two In­dige­nous mem­bers of the Na­tional Arts Cen­tre. The IAC will draw on In­dige­nous method­olo­gies of col­lab­o­ra­tion, bring­ing to­gether lay­ers of knowl­edge from this Inuit, First Na­tions and Métis ad­vi­sory, com­mu­nity mem­bers and a cu­ra­to­rial team in or­der to put for­ward new method­olo­gies and dis­sem­i­na­tion strate­gies. It will build on the work Isaac and I are al­ready en­gaged in,

Indi­g­e­niz­ing the gallery through more nu­anced cu­ra­to­rial ap­proaches grounded in cul­tural knowl­edge, en­vi­ron­ment, sovereignt­y, so­cial and po­lit­i­cal is­sues, in­ter­gen­er­a­tional re­la­tions and land-based knowl­edge. It will be cru­cial as we move for­ward that there is an equally strong ef­fort to in­crease the WAG’s col­lec­tion of First Na­tions and Métis art, to en­gage In­dige­nous art in all ar­eas of the gallery and to wel­come Inuit artists and com­mu­nity mem­bers into our ter­ri­tory. This is a tan­gi­ble op­por­tu­nity to work to­gether, as we have his­tor­i­cally done as In­dige­nous peo­ple, and, if there is di­a­logue, ex­change and com­mu­ni­ca­tion, we will cre­ate a space that is wel­com­ing, in­spir­ing and ed­u­ca­tional. The most im­por­tant per­spec­tive in the build­ing of the IAC and in the larger changes at the WAG is to cen­tre Win­nipeg as the heart of In­dige­nous con­tem­po­rary art and show­case the im­por­tance of in­vest­ing in this fu­ture.

Such rad­i­cally pro­gres­sive changes are only pos­si­ble when in­sti­tu­tions re­main stead­fastly de­ter­mined to trans­form them­selves be­yond their cur­rent colo­nial struc­tures. I have had the for­tune of work­ing with com­mit­ted lead­ers at both the WAG and the Uni­ver­sity of Win­nipeg to­wards this goal. I re­main, how­ever, acutely aware that this com­mit­ment can quickly shift if key in­di­vid­u­als in po­si­tions of up­per man­age­ment de­part, leav­ing room for in­sti­tu­tional at­ti­tudes to change. It is there­fore im­per­a­tive that we, as In­dige­nous schol­ars, ad­min­is­tra­tors and cu­ra­tors, sta­bi­lize our cur­rently pre­car­i­ous po­si­tions within uni­ver­si­ties and art or­ga­ni­za­tions. An essen­tial and timely aspect of this in­volves train­ing and men­tor­ing the next gen­er­a­tion of In­dige­nous cul­tural pro­duc­ers and thinkers to em­power our­selves, our com­mu­ni­ties, our fam­i­lies and our youth with the knowl­edge and op­por­tu­ni­ties that ed­u­ca­tion and art can pro­vide. I know from per­sonal ex­pe­ri­ence that art can rad­i­cally shift main­stream or set­tler ide­olo­gies and cre­ate a space for trans­for­ma­tive so­cial change. My hope is that the Win­nipeg Art Gallery will con­tinue to lead the charge to de­col­o­nize the art in­sti­tu­tion and be­come the front-run­ner in shift­ing mu­seum prac­tices to cre­ate en­coun­ters of an­other kind!

Win­nipeg is home to one of the largest and fastest grow­ing In­dige­nous pop­u­la­tions in Canada, and Inuit make up the small­est group of peo­ple who call Man­i­toba home.

Photo Karen Asher

Pre­vi­ous: Open­ing of Boarder X,Novem­ber 18, 2016 at the Win­nipeg Art Gallery Photo Win­nipeg Art Gallery Ceram­ics from the Gov­ern­ment of Nu­navut Fine Art Col­lec­tion in stor­age at the Win­nipeg Art Gallery

Ren­der­ing of the Win­nipeg Art Gallery’s Inuit Art Cen­tre, de­signed by Michael Maltzan Cour­tesy Win­nipeg Art Gallery

Photo Karen Asher

Stone sculp­tures care­fully laid on a ta­ble in the Inuit art vault at the Win­nipeg Art Gallery

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