Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 29/8/2015 (1916 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
When Julie Nagam was recently appointed to chair a program focusing on the history of indigenous arts in North America -- a joint position with the University of Winnipeg and the Winnipeg Art Gallery -- APTN arrived to interview her at the museum.
When taken to the WAG vault, the crew from the aboriginal television network thought it would be appropriate to talk to the 38-year-old indigenous scholar in front of a cutting-edge aboriginal piece of art, but none could be found.
"It was embarrassing to have APTN come and ask, 'Do you have anything up that we could film in front of?' and we didn't," says Nagam, during a recent interview at the WAG. "It tells me I'm needed.
"I hope to see the WAG become a centre of (contemporary) indigenous art. In terms of collection, they could use more pieces."
The position with the university and the gallery is the first of its kind in Canada, and involves teaching and research with the U of W's history department and curatorial and exhibition work with the gallery. There are only two indigenous curatorial positions in Canada, both in Ottawa museums.
"I feel a little bit humbled and intimidated by what that title means," says the Winnipeg-born Nagam, who grew up in the town of Hazelridge, just east of Winnipeg, with a Métis mother and Syrian-German father. "I like to think of its more as a huge strategic win for the indigenous community in Canada."
Nagam returns to Winnipeg from the Indigenous Visual Culture program at Toronto's OCAD University, formerly known as the Ontario College of Art and Design. She says the new WAG/U of W position could be a decisive moment in the transformation of Winnipeg into a key site for contemporary indigenous art.
The city is ground zero for Canada's rapidly expanding aboriginal population, which is better educated than ever before.
Last year, Winnipeg artist KC Adams presented an attention-getting portrait series called Perception that highlighted the faces of indigenous people and the racial slurs typically directed at them.
"I think the public should get ready for more contemporary indigenous art," says Nagam, who lives in Birds Hill with her husband and two children after eight years in Toronto. "I think that's a good example of what the potential could be."
It is strangely fitting that she would end up working at the WAG, as it was the setting for a pivotal moment in her artistic career. While a student at the University of Manitoba, she visited the gallery for the first time to see Winnipeg-born Robert Houle's 1999 solo exhibition Sovereignty Over Subjectivity and was astonished.
"I didn't know there was indigenous contemporary art," says Nagam, who holds a PhD from York University, as well as a master's degree in native studies from the U of M, where she also earned her undergraduate degree. "It was the first time I had ever seen it and I loved it. I almost cried at his residential piece Sandy Bay. You could look and stare at that work and you could see the pain."
Nagam was the first in her family to earn a post-secondary education, but her academic career might have taken another path if not for mentors who encouraged her to go on and try for a master's degree. At the time, she didn't know what graduate school was.
"You can't imagine what you can do if you don't know its exists," says Nagam, who is a mixed-media artist and will have a piece about hydroelectric development in Manitoba going up in the Canadian Museum for Human Rights.
She sees her role here not so much as an activist, a word she is not afraid to embrace, but as an agent for social change. She will teach indigenous arts at U of W in the first term, followed by a course called Creative Interventions, Art Design in the City. The aim is to empower a new generation by reaching out to schools with a large number of aboriginal students.
Nagam recognizes there have been some feelings of frustration with and disenfranchisement from the WAG from the city's aboriginal arts community. She hopes to make it a more welcoming museum for those artists and aboriginal citizens.
"People are waiting and willing to be invited, because if an institution does not seem to want you, you don't want to go there," she says. "I think that's important for people to understand. When your only experience has been negative, then its something you don't gravitate to."