Wanda Nanibush set to bring AGO's Canadian and Indigenous art into the future

Wanda Nanibush, the new assistant curator for Canadian and Indigenous art at the Art Gallery of Ontario, is keen to showcase younger artists whose work reflects the today's world as well as Indigenous artistic traditions.

Wanda Nanibush will showcase art that speaks to today's conversations around Indigenous lives and the earth

Wanda Nanibush is the inaugural assistant curator for Canadian and Indigenous art at the Art Gallery of Ontario. Her first project is an exhibit that will be on display this fall. (Wanda Nanibush)

Wanda Nanibush is poised to bring fresh Indigenous art to the Art Gallery of Ontario, thanks to her inaugural position as assistant curator for Canadian and Indigenous art. 

"Art is our great imagining. Politics does what is here, concrete, in front of us. Art takes us in to the future."

Earlier this year, Wanda Nanibush curated an exhibit for the Kitchener-Waterloo Art Gallery called The Firth World. "Murmer 1" by Meryl McMaster was one of the pieces on display. (Meryl McMaster)

Nanibush is Anishinaabe-kwe, from Beausoleil First Nation. She completed a master's degree in Visual Studies from the University of Toronto, while holding other roles as a writer, educator, filmmaker and activist. She had worked as a guest curator at the AGO before being chosen for this unique position. 

In an interview with Metro Morning, Nanibush explained the relationship between Canadian and Indigenous art.

"It means Indigenous is the ground of Canadian. It's the land on which we operate. That means it has a specific, special role that should be independent of Canada. It shouldn't be under Canada."

"But then at the same time, Indigenous is deeply embedded inside Canada, so it should also be throughout Canada, so it signals both roles."

The Art Gallery of Ontario houses some of Canada's most renowned artists and has traditionally showcased Indigenousart in a chronological layout. 

Robert Houle is one of Canada's well known Indigenous artists. His piece "Kanata" captures a sense of Indigenous confinement within colonial pressures. (Robert Houle/National Gallery of Canada)

With more and more conversations rising around the lives of Indigenous peoples in Canada, Nanibush is eager to update the way we see Indigenous art today. 

Young, active artists play a large role in bringing Indigenous culture to the forefront. Nanibush notices that the new generation of artists meditate on their concern for the earth. 

"Fuse 2" a piece by Adrian Stimson, an artist whose work Wanda Nanibush admires. (Adrian Stimson)

She is inspired by the creativity of those modern artists who are "integrating contemporary art with traditional practices like Mikmaq basketry" or basket weaving.

Ursula Johnson's work was showcased at last spring's exhibit "The Fifth World." Basket weaving fuses new artistry with tradition. Wanda Nanibush curated this exhibit at the Kitchener Waterloo Art Gallery. (Wanda Nanibush)

Nanibush was also involved in the Idle No More movement that highlighted Indigenous issues. The art she will share with visitors plays a role in continuing those political conversations. 

"The art itself is reflecting on this thing with Idle No More, connected to spirituality, connected to tradition, connected to older art forms that come out of the drum and out of beadwork."

Rebecca Belmore's piece is from the collection "Architecture For A Colonial Landscape." Belmore is a winner of a Governor General's award. She is one of the artists who will appear in Wanda Nanibush's exhibit at the Art Gallery of Ontario this fall. (Rebecca Belmore)

Nanibush's first exhibit, which will celebrate an extensive collection of diverse Canadian and Indigenous artists from Toronto between the years 1971 to 1989, will be on display at the AGO in the fall.