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This article was published 21/4/2018 (1486 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
After Sunday, Insurgence/Resurgence, the largest exhibition of contemporary Indigenous art in the Winnipeg Art Gallery’s history, no longer will be on view. But it will leave an indelible mark on the gallery — and the city.
The show’s final weekend is a bittersweet time for the show’s co-curators, Jaimie Isaac and Julie Nagam, who have been living with this project for much longer than the seven months it has been open to the public.
"Both of us have been ecstatic with the response," Nagam says. "I don’t think I could have even imagined how excited and positive the response has been. We’re excited to see the ripple effects of that, and building on the fact that Winnipeg is a rich place for Indigenous contemporary art."
"It feels really good in terms of the work we did here, bringing the artists together, the programming that came out of it — it’s been really well-received," Isaac says. "I think it really resonated with the community."
In many ways, Insurgence/Resurgence is a groundbreaking, precedent-setting show. The exhibition, which opened in September 2017, featured 29 emerging-to-established Indigenous contemporary artists, some of whom created new commissions. It was curated by two female Indigenous curators/artists who have risen to positions of influence within the institution: Isaac is the curator of Indigenous and contemporary art at the WAG, while Nagam is the chair in the History of Indigenous Art in North America, a joint appointment with the University of Winnipeg and the WAG. And the show signified a radical reclamation of space: covering more than 10,000 square feet, Insurgence/Resurgence was not confined to a single gallery.
From Joi T. Arcand’s gold-foil Cree syllabics travelling up the main stairs to Hannah Claus’s much-Instagrammed cloudscape billowing through the main-floor’s Eckhardt Hall to the print of Kenneth Lavallee’s Creation Story — which replaced the traditional promotional banner on the exterior of the building — the exhibition’s presence was felt everywhere.
"It’s been a career-changing show for me," WAG director and CEO Stephen Borys says. "It has made me rethink why the WAG is here and our role and our mission. This is the largest contemporary Indigenous show in the WAG’s history but, in Canada, it’s the largest contemporary Indigenous show on one site, curated solely by Indigenous curators.
"I love the National Gallery — they did an amazing show called Sakahàn a few years ago, which was their largest. but the curatorial team was split between Indigenous and non-Indigenous. (Insurgence/Resurgence) was led, produced, and created by Indigenous curators, writers, designers and educators. I think that’s an important distinction. As we work to Indigenize the WAG and respond to the (Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s) calls to action, it’s rewarding, confirming and humbling that art can play a very critical role in this whole dialogue."
The WAG also hosted related panel discussions, artists’ talks and film screenings in conjunction with the exhibition.
"This show really was layered in terms of the issues and threads going on — intergeneration knowledge, gender issues, land-based knowledge and issues," Isaac says. "Really talking about the reclamation of culture and cultural resilience. I think people weren’t expecting to see a show that had so many complexities to it that wasn’t heavy-handed in terms of talking about colonialism. It was about thinking about the future, present and past in a way that was reality-based, but also resilient."
The WAG doesn’t have exact public attendance numbers for Insurgence/Resurgence, but Borys says the exhibition’s school tours have been sold out for months.
"The audience I’m most impressed with, by the way they’ve responded and engaged with it, is our schools," Borys says. "The K-12 attendance has been unprecedented, which tells me the messages and ideas coming out of this art, not only is it relevant, it’s important and very, very current."
The curators have also heard raves about the show from their artists, without whom there would be no Insurgence/Resurgence.
"Everyone seems to have so much gratitude and love," Nagam says. "I think there was an underestimation of the gravity the show would have. I think once people were able to come, or came to install, or participated in the symposium, I think people were blown away. Our international guests from New Zealand, Australia, the U.S. and Finland, they were just so ecstatic about how much work was up, and how much space it took up."
"For many of the artists, this was their first time in a gallery like the Winnipeg Art Gallery, and having a larger institution acknowledge and honour their work," Isaac says. "And the catalogue that was produced out of it is there to leave a lasting vestige of that exhibition."
And the show’s artists aren’t exactly fading from view. Four commissions from the exhibition have been purchased by the WAG; works by Arcand, Dee Barsy, Ursula Johnson and Linus Woods will become part of the gallery’s collection. And three of the show’s artists — Arcand, Jordan Bennett and Couzyn van Heuvelen — recently were longlisted for the 2018 Sobey Art Award.
Insurgence/Resurgence will not be a touring show, however. For one thing, it’s too big — and much of the artwork is site-specific.
"We worked hard with exhibit designer Destiny Seymour to transform the gallery spaces," Isaac says. "I think we made a really special place at the Winnipeg Art Gallery for all the work."
Beyond the logistical challenges, it’s hard to imagine this show anywhere but Winnipeg. "That was a real intention, to get people to come to Winnipeg and show its creative force," Nagam says.
One of the curator’s goals for Insurgence/Resurgence was to help establish Winnipeg as a hub for contemporary Indigenous art. For the WAG, the show is an important turning point — one that began when Isaac was still the gallery’s Aboriginal curatorial resident and displayed the exhibitions We Are On Treaty Land, Qua’yuk tchi’gae’win: Making Good, Boarder X and Vernon Ah Kee: cantchant.
"When we did those shows, I thought at the time, ‘We can’t go back,’" Borys says. "This show, Insurgence/Resurgence, just by virtue of the name of the show, we can’t go back. It’s changed the WAG forever — physically, intellectually. The most important thing this show has done, it changed the WAG’s staff, it changed me, and I believe it has had a positive impact on our city."
The curators are optimisitic the show’s impact will be felt far beyond Winnipeg. Call it the Insurgence/Resurgence effect.
"I would hope, and maybe anticipate, other institutions will support these really large, Indigenous-led, Indigenous self-determined, contemporary Indigenous shows in their own institutions," Isaac says.
"I think it shows that you can do a really contemporary show that engages public," Nagam says. "I think about the kind of ripple effect that has nationally and internationally. If we continue to work at this volume and scale, I think it’ll push other institutions to hire permanent Indigenous staff, whether that’s curatorial or educational or management or administration. I think that’s really important. On the national level, I think people could see that this exhibition sparked interest and enthusiasm. So my hope is that we can continue that buzz."