Permanent art display for Indian Group of Seven to open in Alberta college

The Indian Group of Seven was composed of Indigenous artists inspired by the other Canadian Group of Seven, known for painting serene landscapes in the 1920s.

Portage College in Lac La Biche will display group of Indigenous artists' work starting April 13

Joseph Sanchez was one of the seven Indigenous artists who formed the Indian Group of Seven. (Joseph Sanchez/Supplied)

In the 1970s, much of Canada's Indigenous art was labelled "Indigenous craft." Seven Indigenous artists wanted to change the narrative to have their work recognized as simply art.

The Indian Group of Seven was born.

The group of seven Indigenous artists was inspired by the other Canadian Group of Seven, known for painting serene landscapes in the 1920s.

The all-Indigenous group is getting its own art display at Portage College in Lac La Biche, 210 kilometres northeast of Edmonton. The permanent exhibit opens on April 13.

Joseph Sanchez, one of two members of the Indian Group of Seven who is still alive, said the artistic landscape for Indigenous artists is much different today than it was 40 years ago.

"Native art was always just considered craft and not considered fine art," Sanchez told CBC's Radio Active. "We're very committed to the community and to bringing contemporary Native art into the mainstream of Canada and the world in general."

Sanchez, along with Alex Janvier, Daphne Odjig, Jackson Beardy, Eddy Cobiness, Norval Morrisseau and Carl Ray worked to pave the way for the next generation of Indigenous artists. The display honours them and showcases some of the work they created.

"They opened up the doors for other Indigenous artists," said Ruby Sweetman, the Native arts and culture program co-ordinator at Portage College.

It's also opened doors for Sanchez, who is still painting today.

Spiritual surrealist

Sanchez submitted a piece called The Prophet to the exhibit. The painting depicts three prophets from different walks of life. It's a comment on the abundance of end-of-the-world conspiracies in recent years, Sanchez  said. 

Sanchez describes his recent work as "all the way from realistic to totally abstract." He calls himself a spiritual surrealist, painting things that people can't see.

"I use the word 'spiritual' to describe those things that aren't tangible to us but we know that are there," he said. "[My paintings are] windows to other dimensions."

Sanchez's three paintings, called "The Prophets," depict (from left to right) what he calls the Christian Prophet, the Indian Prophet and the New Age Prophet. (Joseph Sanchez/Supplied)