Michael Snow
Clothed Woman (In Memory of my Father) 1963
oil and lucite on canvas
152 x 386.2 cm
Purchased 1966
National Gallery of Canada

Steeling the Gaze: Portraits by Aboriginal Artists

Ottawa - October 30, 2008

An exhibition that explores image identity from an indigenous perspective
Presented by The Canadian Museum of Contemporary Photography at the National Gallery of Canada from October 31, 2008 to March 22, 2009

Profoundly symbolic works by some of Canada’s most celebrated Indigenous artists send a powerful message on the evolution of Aboriginal self-determination in Canada. They will be presented by the Canadian Museum of Contemporary Photography (CMCP) at the National Gallery of Canada (NGC) in an exhibition entitled Steeling the Gaze: Portraits by Aboriginal Artists which will be on view from October 31, 2008 until  March 22, 2009.

This deeply reflective exhibition will showcase CMCP’s significant collection of Indigenous artists as well as those drawn from the NGC’s and selected private collections. It combines portrait photographs and video installations by 12 artists ― KC Adams, Carl Beam, Dana Claxton, Thirza Cuthand, Rosalie Favell, Kent Monkman, David Neel, Shelley Niro, Arthur Renwick, Greg Staats, Jeff Thomas and Bear Witness.

“It is the first time that CMCP and the NGC have worked together on the theme of contemporary portraiture by Aboriginal artists,” said CMCP Director, Martha Hanna. “This exhibition pays tribute to prominent Aboriginal artists whose works offer a new voice.”

The exhibition explores how contemporary Aboriginal artists have used the portrait as a means of self-expression in spite of its long problematic history for their peoples. “The portrait is a European convention which exerts control over the subject,” explained the CMCP co-curator Andrea Kunard. “In the past, Aboriginal people were often objectified for commercial purposes. They were represented as a dying race doomed by the inexorable march of ‘civilization.’ Contrary to this portrayal, they have neither vanished nor died out; they survived.”

The exhibition’s other co-curator who is the NGC’s first-ever Curator in Residence, Indigenous Art, Steven Loft, added that “these artists use their cameras to create a means of cultural self-determination. By reconstructing the narrative of race, they have captured the wide plurality of Aboriginal histories, cultures and contemporary realities and have created their own visual identities.”

Exhibition Themes
The exhibition engages a number of themes which are present in the work of contemporary Aboriginal artists. These include:

Aboriginal artists as creators of visual history
These artists reclaim images of themselves, their families and their communities and use them as a means of transforming past concerns into the present. They challenge stereotypes, creating a new visual history and are harbingers of a changing reality.

Keeping ancient traditions alive
To challenge the detrimental characterizations of Aboriginal life developed through colonization and assimilation, contemporary Indigenous artists represent identity as a changing and complex state, rather than one that is essential, singular and “frozen” in the past. Within these images, which describe contemporary existence, references to traditions, family and community, appear as a source of strength and grounding.

Appropriation, mass media and “acting up”
Bear Witness, Rosalie Favell and KC Adams use appropriation strategies to explore the influence of art history and mass media on identity. In his work, Bear Witness weaves together images taken from popular movies. Rosalie Favell takes images from art history, and KC Adams merges stereotypes and fashion photography in her portraits of Aboriginal community members. Acting up for the camera is another approach for dealing with identity issues. Dana Claxton, Shelley Niro, Rosalie Favell, Thirza Cuthand and Kent Monkman use photographic space as theatre, taking on various guises to present a multifaceted view of contemporary Aboriginal existence.

Socio-political issues
Kent Monkman, Rosalie Favell and Thirza Cuthand explore contemporary, social and political issues within the Aboriginal communities, such as sexuality, hybridity and shifting socio-political dynamics.

The Full Face Portrait
Arthur Renwick and David Neel focus on the face and how it is framed. Neel uses more conventional studio techniques to present his portraits. While Renwick presents larger than life, full face portraits, positioning his subjects as living embodiments of Aboriginal spiritual and cosmological traditions. Both artists offer a glimpse of Aboriginality we do not often see reflected in our media saturated society.

Exhibition Curators
Andrea Kunard has been with the CMCP since 1998. She has presented a number of important exhibitions including Shifting Sites (2000), Susan McEachern: Structures of Meaning (2004), Michael Semak (2005), The Painted Photograph (2006), Jin-Me Yoon: Unbidden (2006) and Cheryl Sourkes: Public Camera (2007). She has given lectures at Carleton and Queens University on Canadian Art, the History of Photography, and Cultural Theory. In addition, she has published articles on contemporary and historic photography in a variety of publications including The Journal of Canadian Art History, International Journal of Canadian Studies, Early Popular Visual Culture, Muse, C Magazine and ETC Montréal.

Steven Loft, was appointed as the NGC’s first ever Curator in Residence, Indigenous Art in January 2008. His professional experience within the Indigenous arts is extensive and encompasses being Director of the Urban Shaman Gallery in Winnipeg, Aboriginal Curator at the Art Gallery of Hamilton, and Artistic Director of the Native Indian/Inuit Photographers’ Association. Over the past 15 years, he has presented numerous significant Aboriginal exhibitions and is a widely published author on this topic.

Educational Activities
Lectures are being presented in conjunction with Steeling the Gaze: Portraits by Aboriginal Artists.

Thursday 19 February, 2009 at 6 pm
“In the Line of Sight.” How does the camera’s changing technology affect how we see ourselves and others? Andrea Kunard, Associate Curator, CMCP explores the history of the portrait in photography from daguerreotypes to Facebook. In conjunction with the exhibition Steeling the Gaze: Portraits by Aboriginal Artists. In the Lecture Hall.

Thursday 26 February, 2009 at 6 pm
In conjunction with the exhibition, “Pictures of Indians,” is presented by Steven Loft, Curator in Residence, Indigenous Art. He explores the history and use of portraiture to codify, misrepresent, and stereotype Aboriginal people, and the reclaiming of that image by contemporary Aboriginal artists. In the Lecture Hall.

Meet the Artists
Sunday 1 March at 2 pm and 3 pm
Artist Rosalie Favell (2 pm) and Jeff Thomas (3 pm) will discuss their work featured in Steeling the Gaze: Portraits by Aboriginal Artists in galleries B102 and 103. In English with a bilingual question period. Included with gallery admission.

Touring Venues
This exhibition will be displayed at various Canadian venues which are to be confirmed.

Ticket Prices and Hours
Entry to Steeling the Gaze: Portraits by Aboriginal Artists is complimentary with a ticket to the NGC Collections. These are on sale at $9 for adults, $7 for seniors and full-time students, $4 for youths aged 12 to 19 years, and $18 for families (two adults and three children). Admission is free of charge for children under 12, and for Friends of the Gallery. Tickets are available by telephone at 613-998-8888 or 1-888-541-8888, and at http://www.shopngc.ca/.

The NGC is open from Tuesday to Sunday every day from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., except Thursdays when it is open until 8 p.m. The Gallery is closed on Mondays.

About the Canadian Museum of Contemporary Photography
The collection, which comprises over 161,000 images (17,000 photographic works and 144,000 negatives and transparencies), has been developed through purchases, assignments and donations of the best documentary and art photography by Canadian photographers. The variety and range of its collection make CMCP a unique institution in this country, and one of only a few national museums devoted to photography in the world. This body of work offers a detailed and panoramic view of Canada's recent history and culture, showing us both what we look like and how we see our world. Almost all exhibitions organized by the CMCP for presentation in Ottawa are then made available for travel to venues across the country and abroad through the National Gallery’s “On Tour” programme. Exhibitions are also borrowed to complement the Museum’s own productions and collection holdings. The CMCP continues to acquire the works of photographers currently living and working in Canada.

Note: Due to an ongoing renovation program of its premises at 1 Rideau Street, the CMCP is currently staging its exhibitions at the National Gallery of Canada.

About the National Gallery of Canada
The National Gallery of Canada is home to the most important collections of historical and contemporary Canadian art in the world. In addition, it has pre-eminent collections of Inuit, Western and European Art from the 14th to the 21st century, American and Asian Art, as well as drawings and photography. Created in 1880, it is among the oldest of Canada’s national cultural institutions. As part of its mandate to make Canadian art accessible across the country, the NGC has one of the largest touring art exhibition programs in North America. For more information, visit http://www.gallery.ca/.

– 30 –

For more information, please contact:

Josée-Britanie Mallet
Senior Media and Public Relations Officer
National Gallery of Canada

Claire Schofield
Manager, Communications and Public Relations
National Gallery of Canada