Win­nipeg Art Gallery re­veals plans for in­au­gu­ral In­dige­nous bi­en­nial

The Globe and Mail (Prairie Edition) - - NEWS - MARSHA LEDERMAN

The 2020 ex­hi­bi­tion will in­clude com­mis­sions and out­reach pro­grams, and will fea­ture artists from Canada, the U.S. North, New Zealand and Aus­tralia

The Win­nipeg Art Gallery has an­nounced plans for an In­dige­nous bi­en­nial–an ex­hi­bi­tion of In­dige­nous con­tem­po­rary art every two years– be­gin­ning in 2020. The Win­nipeg In­dige­nous Bi­en­nial is the first in­ter­na­tional In­dige­nous bi­en­nial or­ga­nized by a pub­lic art mu­seum in Canada.

The in­au­gu­ral ex­hi­bi­tion, To Draw Wa­ter, will in­clude artists from Canada and the U.S. North (First Na­tions that ex­tend from Canada over the in­vis­i­ble bor­der into the United States), New Zealand and Aus­tralia.

It is be­ing cu­rated by Jaimie Isaac, WAG cu­ra­tor of In­dige­nous and con­tem­po­rary art, and Julie Nagam, chair in the his­tory of In­dige­nous art in North Amer­ica at the Univer­sity of Win­nipeg/WAG. Both women are mem­bers of the WAG’s In­dige­nous ad­vi­sory cir­cle, es­tab­lished by the gallery last year (Dr. Nagam is its co-chair).

“Some of the best work that’s com­ing out of the Cana­dian arts scene is com­ing from In­dige­nous artists,” Dr. Nagam says, call­ing the idea long over­due.

“We’ve seen a kind of ex­plo­sion since the eight­ies of In­dige­nous con­tem­po­rary art.”

Ms. Isaac and Dr. Nagam co-cu­rated the 2017-18 ex­hi­bi­tion, In­sur­gence/Resur­gence, the largest ex­hi­bi­tion of In­dige­nous art the WAG has pre­sented. Dr. Nagam says as they were creat­ing that show, the in­ten­tion was al­ways to build on it and launch a for­mal bi­en­nial. The 2020 ex­hi­bi­tion will ex­am­ine how In­dige­nous coun­tries are fo­cus­ing on is­sues of sus­tain­abil­ity, cli­mate change and the en­vi­ron­ment. To Draw Wa­ter takes its name and theme from an Anishi­naabe­mowin con­cept.

When the cu­ra­to­rial team was re­search­ing the idea, Ms. Isaac was look­ing up terms that deal with wa­ter and she found the word nibi – which means wa­ter, but also “to draw wa­ter.”

They loved the lay­ers of mean­ing that term of­fered. In ad­di­tion to the act of draw­ing (or gather­ing) wa­ter, there is the artis­tic prac­tice of draw­ing, and draw­ing upon no­tions of wa­ter – whether the pol­i­tics or the spir­i­tu­al­ity of wa­ter. “So it draws upon all of those lay­ers as­so­ci­ated with it,” Ms. Isaac says. The in­au­gu­ral bi­en­nial will co­in­cide with the open­ing of the WAG’s new Inuit Art Cen­tre. The plan is that they will both launch in the same month.

“I think it would be a re­ally im­por­tant mon­u­men­tal move to have both those exhibitions run­ning con cur­rently. I think it would show­case that the Win­nipeg Art Gallery is in­vested in Inuit, First Na­tions andMét is artists ,” says Dr. Nagam, who is of Métis, Ger­man and Syr­ian de­scent.

The bi­en­nial will in­clude com­mis­sions, artist res­i­den­cies and ed­u­ca­tion and out­reach pro­grams, in ad­di­tion to the ex­hi­bi­tion it­self. “What the bi­en­nial will mean is that it will to con­tinue to push the bound­aries of what In­dige­nous con­tem­po­rary art can be and at the same time show­case the breadth of work that’s ac­tu­ally hap­pen­ing,” Dr. Nagam says. “I want Win­nipeg to be the fore­front of that. I want it to be the epi­cen­tre of In­dige­nous con­tem­po­rary art.”

WAG di­rec­tor and chief ex­ec­u­tive Stephen Bo­rys says Canada is ex­pe­ri­enc­ing a re­nais­sance of In­dige­nous art and that WAG is “hon­oured” to be part of that.

“I think it sit­u­ates us in a crit­i­cal, piv­otal place in terms of in­ter­na­tional In­dige­nous art but also just in­ter­na­tional con­tem­po­rary art,” he says. “And given the his­tory, the ge­og­ra­phy but also the cur­rent con­tem­po­rary trends that go through this city and through this or­ga­ni­za­tion, we are in a very im­por­tant place to in fact al­low for a new fo­rum that re­ally has not ex­isted.”

We’ve seen a kind of ex­plo­sion since the eight­ies of In­dige­nous con­tem­po­rary art. JULIE NAGAM CHAIR IN THE HIS­TORY OF IN­DIGE­NOUS ART IN NORTH AMER­ICA AT THE UNIVER­SITY OF WIN­NIPEG AND WIN­NIPEG ART GALLERY

TOP: ERICA URIAS LEFT: BREANNE LUCKY

Top: A woman looks at artist Bruno Cana­dien’s paint­ing, Hus­tle & Bus­tle/Down­river House. Left: Jaimie Isaac, left, and Julie Nagam are both mem­bers of the Win­nipeg Art Gallery’s In­dige­nous ad­vi­sory cir­cle. The two are cu­rat­ing the gallery’s in­au­gu­ral In­dige­nous bi­en­nial, an ex­hi­bi­tion called To Draw Wa­ter.

TOP/ABOVE: GREG GALLINGER/WIN­NIPEG FREE PRESS; CEN­TRE: ERIC AU

Top: Two men dis­cuss Kent Monkman’s paint­ing, Death of the Fe­male, at the Win­nipeg Art Gallery. Cen­tre: Peo­ple sit in a room in the Win­nipeg Art Gallery. Above: A man looks at a neon art in­stal­la­tion in the gallery dur­ing Nuit Blanche.

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