Indigenous

Indigenous exhibits will open new OCAD University gallery

Canada's largest and oldest art and design school is opening a brand new gallery this weekend, with two Indigenous art exhibits featured.

'This is art from the land, this is art that probably shouldn’t have existed,' says curator Ryan Rice

So Much Depends Upon Who Holds the Shovel is a 2008 work by Christi Belcourt. It will be featured in one of two exhibits opening OCAD University's new Onsite gallery. (Image Courtesy of Collection of Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada)

Canada's largest and oldest art and design school is opening a brand new gallery this weekend, with two Indigenous art exhibits featured.

Toronto's OCAD University — formerly the Ontario College of Art and Design — will celebrate the launch of its new Onsite Gallery, which officially opens Saturday, with two exhibitions. One, called raise a flag: works from the Indigenous Art Collection, focuses on pieces from 2005-2015 and is curated by Ryan Rice, the Delaney Chair in Indigenous Visual Culture at OCAD.

The other exhibit, For this Land: Inside Elemental, will feature works from 2Ro Media — the team of Jackson 2bears and Janet Rogers.

Be a Good Girl by Tania Willard will be part of the OCAD U exhibits. (Image courtesy of Collection of Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada)

The gallery will be a space for cultural diversity and home to new media and design art forms, the university says.

Rice, who has been working on the raise a flag exhibit for two years, said it's about asking questions.

"I wanted to pose that question and provoke people to consider, 'How is this Indigenous art, how does this challenge those misconceptions and stereotypes about what Indigenous people should be doing?'" he said.

The gallery will not exclusively exhibit Indigenous art, but will also look at different parts of the world or focus on different issues within Canada, said Francisco Alvarez, the executive director of OCAD U's galleries.

"We have a growing Indigenous culture program here at OCAD University and it's one of the focuses of the academic plan — not only Indigenization but decolonialism in general, from hiring faculty to programing," he said.

"Since we have distinguished Indigenous curators here, like Ryan, we thought it would be a very fitting subject to deal with at this time."

OCAD University's new Onsite Gallery opens Saturday with two exhibitions of Indigenous art. (Photo courtesy of Martin Iskander)
The opening of the gallery corresponds with the 150th anniversary of Canada's Confederation. Although the current exhibits are not specifically about the anniversary, there was a lot of dialogue around Indigenous issues and reconciliation leading up to Canada 150, said Alvarez.  

Raise a flag features work by more than 30 artists from a national Indigenous art collection, which is managed by Indigenous and Northern Affairs. It includes a mix of established and emerging First Nations, Métis and Inuit artists from all corners of Canada.

The full collection, which is held in a vault in Gatinueau, Que., boast 4,252 pieces, from which Rice pulled 49 works from 39 different artists.

"This is art from the land, this is art that probably shouldn't have existed because art and culture was legislated and banned," said Rice.

He said he wanted to show the power of the national collection.

"It proves the fact that all of these issues have been with us for a long time, that are now current, that Canada now knows about," said Rice.

The gallery's other exhibit, For this Land: Inside Elemental is a multi-dimensional, multimedia experience exploring narratives of Haudenosaunee stories within that traditional territory.

The two exhibits will run until Dec. 10, 2017.

A Saturday afternoon street celebration of the gallery's opening at 199 Richmond St. will have a host of performances and presentations from Indigenous artists such as DJ Classic Roots, Duke Redbird, Janet Rogers, Long Branch, Charlena Russell, Red Sky, Logan Staats and more.

CBC host and arts reporter Amanda Parris will lead the afternoon's events, which will be held from 12 p.m. until 6 p.m. ET.
Cultural Tension II by Lionel Peyachew will be part of the OCAD U exhibits, which run until Dec. 10. (Image courtesy of Collection of Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada)

About the Author

Rhiannon Johnson is an Anishinaabe journalist from Hiawatha First Nation based in Toronto. She has been with the Indigenous unit since 2017 focusing on Indigenous life and experiences throughout Ontario. You can reach her at rhiannon.johnson@cbc.ca and on Twitter @rhijhnsn.