I have just had the pleasure of spending a day with the superb exposition, 100 Masters Only in Canada, at the Winnipeg Art Gallery. In addition to savouring beautiful and evocative paintings and sculptures, I came away with an important political inspiration.
Included in the selection was Alex Janvier's Lubicon (1988), which he painted to protest an exposition in Calgary that had been partly subsidized by Shell Oil. Given all the distress and dislocation Shell Oil had caused the Lubicon nation, Janvier saw a travesty in the company's role in an exposition of native art.
My immediate thought was: This painting should be recognized and trumpeted as Canada's Guernica. When the Spanish fascists arranged for the almost complete destruction of the town of Guernica by German and Italian airplane bombing on April 26, 1937, the outraged Pablo Picasso painted what is perhaps the most striking political protest in 20th-century art.
In a less single-event, less dramatic fashion, the Albertan and Canadian governments, in collusion with the petrochemical corporations, are destroying the basic ecological conditions for natural and human life over a large part of northern Alberta. The tarsands desecration is only one aspect of Canada's significant contribution to global warming, but it symbolically represents an immense part of the whole.
We should elevate Janvier's striking and moving Lubicon to the national status that Guernica occupies in Spain (and indeed, throughout the free world). Since reason doesn't move (ir)responsible governments, perhaps passion will.
Donald A. Bailey