Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Exhibit takes global look at aboriginal art

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IT'S a show fit for the world to see -- and on the day that an historic art exhibit opened, a slice of the world came and saw it.

On Sunday, around 150 guests from Winnipeg and across the world piled into chartered buses for a five-hour tour of the new art exhibit Close Encounters: The Next 500 Years, which opened in five Winnipeg spaces this weekend, including the main exhibit site at 109 Pacific Ave., the Winnipeg Art Gallery, the Plug In Institute of Contemporary Art, and the Manitoba Hydro tower.

Developed by by four leading Canadian curators and funded by the Winnipeg Cultural Capital of 2010 program, Close Encounters asked indigenous artists from North and South America, the Australian continent and Europe to deliver pieces that reflected on the history of the aboriginal experience -- and the future of the human one.

The exhibit, which runs until May 8, is being hailed as the largest exhibition of contemporary aboriginal art anywhere in the world, ever.

For artists from warmer climes, all that buzz lured them to a close encounter of the cold kind, but many agreed on Sunday that the 33-artist extravaganza was well worth shivering in a Winnipeg winter.

"All this is really special," nodded New Zealand sculptor Brett Graham, before stepping under the Planetarium dome to watch a video by Winnipeg-born Métis artist Rosalie Favell.

Graham, whose work embraces Maori and European traditions, was one of three artists from New Zealand to make the trek for Close Encounters.

Some bonds have already been built: A shared history of sculpture keeps Maori artists and sculptors from Vancouver's First Nations in touch, Graham said. "But east of that is new territory," he mused. "Indigenous people can learn from each other, because it's the same issues everywhere."

Besides the artistic dialogues, Close Encounters also paved the way for key in-person ones: discussions, some said, that could breathe fresh energy into the world of contemporary aboriginal art. "There's so many people you get to meet," beamed Jessie Short, an art-curating intern from Toronto who has studied contemporary aboriginal art.

Short and fellow intern Vanessa Dion Fletcher, who even started a blog at Our-Encounter.blogspot.com to document the trip, posted a picture showing all the folks with whom they'd networked.

"It's a fairly small community, and often spread out, so having so many people in one location (is important)," she said.

melissa.martin@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 24, 2011 B3

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