SPAO launches new gallery with Canadiana exhibit that challenges assumptions

Thirteen years in the making, the School of Photographic Arts: Ottawa, is launching its new gallery and its inaugural exhibit: Canadiana — Selections from the Art Bank Collection.

'This represents 13 years of fighting and trying to carve out a space for ourselves here in Ottawa'

Jonathan Hobin is creative director of the School of Photographic Arts: Ottawa, which is launching its new gallery and an inaugural exhibit. (Mario Carlucci/CBC)

Thirteen years in the making, the School of Photographic Arts: Ottawa, is launching its new gallery and its inaugural exhibit: Canadiana — Selections from the Art Bank Collection. 

"This represents 13 years of fighting and trying to carve out a space for ourselves here in Ottawa. So this is really a monumental moment for us," said creative director Jonathan Hobin. "It's public, it's accessible and all this is done without funding, which is really important for people to realize. This is a community-built space."

The photographers in this exhibition have each turned their attention to the land — as a site of interaction, of conflict or of contemplation.- Johanna Mizgala, guest curator

The exhibit, featuring Edward Burtynsky, Shelley Niro, Lorraine Gilbert and Mary Longman, among others, will become an annual showcase of artists from across the country presented in partnership with the Canadian Tulip Festival, Hobin said.

Guest curator Johanna Mizgalah, who also curates the House of Commons heritage collection, selected the works from the Canada Council Art Bank, the largest holder of contemporary Canadian art.

"The photographers in this exhibition have each turned their attention to the land — as a site of interaction, of conflict or of contemplation. They seek to trouble the idea of Canadiana by upending old mythologies and by telling new stories in their place," reads text written by Mizgala for the exhibit's literature. 
SPAO Centre Gallery's inaugural show runs until Canada Day. (SPAO)

Turning Canadiana 'on its head'

One happy accident in the selections, according to Hobin, is that three of the nine featured photographers are Indigenous.

"I'm just realizing that now and that's really a wonderful thing to happen when you're talking about representation of images of Canada," he said. "Their time has come to express their point of view."

People coming to the exhibition for sweeping landscapes, wildlife and conventional images of Canadiana, à la float plane and hockey scenes, will be in for a surprise, Hobin said. 

Take the huge image of Niagara Falls by Angela Grauerholtz greeting entrants to the gallery.

"She's presenting it in a dark and moody way, in a lot of ways, that you don't expect when you think of that imagery. Equally beautiful and breathtaking but in a different way. So even when you're dealing with traditional iconography of Canada, you've got someone looking at it, and turning it on its head a little bit."

Canadiana — Selections from the Art Bank Collection runs until July 1, 2018, at the SPAO Centre Gallery on Pamilla Street.