Winnipeg Art Gallery presents groundbreaking Aboriginal art

In the early 1970s, a group of seven aboriginal artists came together in Daphne Odjig's print shop in Winnipeg.

7: Professional Native Indian Artists Inc. features works by seven of Canada's most important artists

Alex Janvier. Wounded Knee Boy, 1972. (Courtesy of Janvier Gallery)

In the early 1970s, a group of seven aboriginal artists came together in artist Daphne Odjig's print shop in Winnipeg. They formed a group called Professional Native Indian Artists Inc., but soon adopted the name Indian Group of Seven.

We were determined to change the world of art- Alex Janvier

They had a specific goal, according to Winnipeg Art Gallery curator Andrew Kear.

"These were artists who were having a difficult time individually getting exhibitions in the kind of venues that they wanted. The venues were art galleries. They were getting shows in commercial spaces, ethnographic museums and sometimes faced the criticism either of their work looking 'too Indian' on the one hand, and on the other hand looking 'not Indian enough,'" he said.
Alex Janvier: The Four Seasons of ‘76, 1977. Acrylic on masonite. Courtesy of Janvier Gallery. (Don Hall)

The collective was made up of Alex Janvier, Norval Morrisseau, Daphne Odjig, Jackson Beardy, Eddy Cobiness, Carl Ray and Joseph Sanchez.

Alex Janvier is one of the central figures of the group and one of the three artists still alive. He agrees with Kear's assessment of the group's vision.

"The art world wasn't interested in what we were doing," he said. We weren't good enough or we didn't measure up to so-and-so curator's ideal of art of that day.

"We were determined to change the world of art," he continued. "And so it did happen, it did change. And the nice thing is it went on and it's living now."
Jackson Beardy. Flock, 1973. Oil on canvas. Collection of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada. (Courtesy of Aboriginal Art Centre, Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada)

Kear said the group garnered a great deal of attention as a group. "That made people aware of the fact that there is this thing called contemporary First Nations art. It can be very diverse, these artists are not all doing the same thing. It made people aware that it wasn't something that was relegated to the past or was unchanging."

Janvier, who was born at Cold Lake First Nations and is of Dene-Saulteaux heritage, feels the situation today shows a remarkable reversal. "Maybe Canada's going to start growing up.

"My hope? That we become powerful people with what we have. I would like to see my children and grandchildren get in there, as landlords, of course. I would like to see the next generation have something that's really what they can believe in as Canada."

7: Professional Native Indian Artists Inc. opens at the Winnipeg Art Gallery on May 9 at 7:00. Alex Janvier and Joseph Sanchez will be in attendance.

The exhibit features works by all seven members of the collective, Norval Morrisseau, Daphne Odjig, Jackson Beardy, Eddy Cobiness and Carl Ray, in addition to Janvier and Sanchez.