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This article was published 8/11/2018 (340 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
The Winnipeg Art Gallery hopes a recurring exhibit every two years will transform it into a stage for contemporary Indigenous art worldwide.
"Launching in conjunction with the opening of the WAG Inuit Art Centre, the Winnipeg Indigenous biennial will celebrate the voices of the artists. Canada is experiencing a renaissance of Indigenous art and the gallery is honoured to be part of this exciting movement," director and chief executive officer Stephen Borys said Thursday, during an announcement in the gallery’s main hall.
The first exhibit (an expected selection of work from 60 Indigenous artists) is planned for 2020, when the Inuit Art Centre is due to open, Borys said.
The exhibition series is intended to build on the success of the gallery’s 2017-18 Insurgence/Resurgence event, and will include commissions, artist residencies, education and outreach programs.
The first biennial — a play on the well-known Venice Biennale, which celebrates the heritage and culture of European art — will showcase Indigenous art from Canada, New Zealand and Australia, partly because they share a similar colonial history.
Grouped around the theme of "To Draw Water," an Ojibwa language concept, the initial exhibit will reflect how many Indigenous nations focus on issues of sustainability, climate change and the environment.
It’s timed to coincide with Manitoba’s 150th anniversary and to respond to the 2015 Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s calls to action, recognizing the power of art and its role in understanding and reconciliation.
Thursday’s announcement was made against the backdrop of a fitting art loan: the vibrant mural Androgyny, by famed Ojibwa painter Norval Morrisseau.
A couple of days ago, the epic work hung in Rideau Hall, the Governor General’s residence in Ottawa. The acrylic on-canvas work depicts the Anishinaabe perspective on the interconnectedness of creation.
A massive 3.6 metres by six metres, it now fills the back wall of the gallery’s grand hall, on loan from Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada.
Morrisseau (1931-2007) created the mural as a gesture to reconciliation, long before the national conversation turned to the concept, said Jaimie Isaac, WAG curator of Indigenous and contemporary art. Androgyny was presented by the artist to prime minister Pierre Trudeau in 1983.
"The history there is (Indigenous artists) Daphne Odjig and Norval Morrisseau co-founded what they cheekily called the ‘Indian Group of Seven’... and created the legacy here in Winnipeg and beyond for contemporary Indigenous art," Isaac said.
That alone makes Winnipeg a natural home for the ambitious initiative announced Thursday, she said.
"I see it as relevant the Winnipeg Art Gallery would support this, and I see it as having a mushroom effect across Canada and North America," she said.
Isaac and the biennial exhibit’s other co-curator, Julie Nagam, shared high hopes for its future.
"When Jaimie and I did Insurgence/Resurgence, I don’t think we were prepared for the kind of reverberations we got from it, so (this) is building on that excitement. It’s radically changing this space from a stone fortress to a more active busy place, along the idea of blowing the roof off," Nagam said with a smile.
Alexandra is a veteran news reporter who has covered stories for the Winnipeg Free Press since 1987. She held the medical beat for nearly 17 years, and today specializes in coverage of Indigenous-related issues. She is among the most versatile journalists on the paper’s staff.
Updated on Thursday, November 8, 2018 at 7:47 PM CST: Fixes typo in photo caption
11:40 PM: Changes photo
November 9, 2018 at 7:39 AM: Final
6:01 PM: Updates photo