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Visual Art: November 2013 Archives

Returning plundered art creates ethical dilemmas

plundered art.jpgWhen we think of looted art, we often think of art stolen by the Nazis from Jewish families during the Holocaust.

But it's something that's happened many times in history, and continues to happen even today.

For example, some First Nations people here in Canada are involved in talks with museums, trying to negotiate the return of cultural objects such as totem poles.

But returning art and cultural objects is not always clear cut. Sometimes the middleman benefits as much as the rightful owner.

A conference on plundered art was recently held at Concordia University, and on the occasion, Cinq à Six host Jeanette Kelly spoke with:

  • Monica Patterson, Postdoctoral Fellow at the Centre for Ethnographic Research and Exhibition in the Aftermath of Violence (CEREV), Concordia University
  • Marc Masurovsky, Director of the Provenance Research Training Program (PRTP), European Shoah Legacy Institute in Washington DC.

Listen to their conversation:                             

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Photo: A researcher of the Art Loss Register at their offices in central London, Wednesday, Nov. 6, 2013, points to a picture on a news website, showing a painting by Henry Matisse entitled 'Sitzende Frau' ('Sitting Woman') which is part of the art recently found in Munich, Germany. AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis

Cultured inspiration or cultural appropriation?

indiangirldoll.JPGThe boutique at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts got into some hot water over selling a line of luxe fashion and homewear.

The collection, called Inukt, features First Nations-themed items such as an armchair decorated with a silkscreened head of a chief wearing a feather headdress, and $800 fur purses with little plastic "Indian girl" dolls as decorations.

This didn't sit well with some artists who's work is being exhibited across town at an exhibition called Beat Nation, at the Museum of Contemporary Art.

First Nations artists said the line amounts to cultural appropriation, and has no place in a Canadian museum.

The museum decided to pull Inukt products from its shelves.

But the controversy brought up some larger issues.  

Where do we draw the line between artistic inspiration and cultural appropriation?

Elisapie Isaac is a singer, songwriter, filmmaker and activist. She grew up in Salluit, Nunavik. 

Sonny Assu is Liǥwilda'xw of the We Wai Kai First Nation. He grew up in the suburbs of Vancouver and now lives in Montreal. He is a visual artist, and his work is featured in the Beat Nation exhibition.

Listen to Jeanette's conversation with Elisapie and Sonny.

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What would it take to make you feel welcome?

Cultural-Exchange2.jpgArtist Carolina Echeverria recently opened an exhibition at the Rialto Theatre in Monteal called Immigrant de Souche (Native Immigrant).

Carolina is originally from Chile. This exhibition is about her relationship with her adopted home, Quebec, and her sense of belonging to the mainstream culture in this province.

It was in part inspired by her reaction to the proposed Quebec Charter of Values.

Inspired by this exhibition, we invited Carolina along with two other artists who were born outside of Quebec for a round table discussion on Cinq à Six.

Zaineb Shaban is an architect and visual artist. She is originally from Iraq, and comes to Quebec via the UK.

Yassin Alsalman, better known as The Narcicyst is a musician and lecturer at Concordia. He was born in The United Arab Emirates to Iraqi parents, and grew up between the UAE and Montreal.  

The questions:

  • Do you feel a sense of belonging in Quebec? If so, why?
  • If not, what would it take to make you feel like you fully belong?

Listen to the panel discussion, hosted by Jeanette Kelly.

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(Image: Painting by Carolina Echeverria from