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Aborigional Activist Art

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Alex Johnston

on 23 October 2013

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Transcript of Aborigional Activist Art

Aboriginal Activist Art
Namelessness For Aboriginal Artists
Diana Nermiroff pulls a rather offensive quote from Ruth Phillip's article entitled “Indian Art: Where do you put it?” that summarizes the views of Western Society on Aboriginal culture. The quote reads “The question of where and how indian art should be exhibited is one that has been with us for much of this century.” It is offensive because it silences Aboriginals by taking away their power to speak for themselves. During this time Aboriginal art was “described as 'Indian Art' and shown chiefly within an ethnographic or romantic primitivist context” within western museums and galleries. The artists were also nameless and invisible due to the exhibitions representing the entire 'Indian' culture rather than individual artists or styles.
Hope For The Future
Steve Loft, the curator of Ghost Dace at the Ryerson Image Gallery used many excellent curatorial techniques to showcase Aboriginal Activist Art in it's true glory, allowing works such as Round Dance and Selective history to be deeply appreciated. He presented the name of the artist beside the art work to show respect and recognition for the individual artists the way Western museums would for European artists. Modernism, Nationalism and Beyond outlines how Aboriginal Art is on it's way to being appreciated in western galleries through the emergence of university galleries. This is reflected in how Ghost Dance outlines how the emergence of Aboriginal Art in Western museums hopes to influence the appreciation of Aboriginal culture within Canada.
The End of Namelessness for Aboriginal Artists

It wasn't until the 1980's that museums and galleries were challenged by university galleries entering the field of art institutions. In Modernism, Nationalism and Beyond Nerimoff outlines how university galleries such as the Ryerson Image Centre are less interested in pleasing the main stream crowd because they have less funding. This allows them to be more experimental and put on exhibitions such as Ghost Dance which go against the norm. In the 80's this meant a fresh new presentation of aboriginal art and the chance for Aboriginal artists to receive the respect they deserve. Nerimoff points out how in this era it “..seemed no longer possible or desirable to represent a whole art movement, let alone a culture.” and how these institutions suddenly experienced “...onrush of names where anonymity had been the rule: the new catalogues feature entries on artists rather than objects, biographies replace provenances, and artists' statements take the place of cultural data.” This holds true at the Ryerson Image Center where the curator chose to display each artist's name, tribe and current home city on the blurb beside each work.
Aboriginal Art in Western Museums and Galleries
There are many striking similarities between how Western society believes Aboriginal people should be integrated into their culture and how Western Society believes Aboriginal Art should be integrated into their museums and galleries. Ghost Dance, The exhibition currently shown at the Ryerson Image Centre, features Aboriginal activist art that shares many ideas with Modernism, Nationalism and Beyond; a critical history of exhibitions of First Nations art, an article by Diana Nermiroff. Ghost Dance represents the ongoing journey of activism in Indigenous art and the resistance of the colonial paternalism on their people. Modernism, Nationalism and Beyond outlines how Western museums and galleries have exhibited and continue to exhibit Aboriginal art in a primitive manner.
Selective History
Sonny Assu Ligwilda
Selective History is an archival pigment print featured in Ghost Dance. It is by the artist Sonny Assu Ligwilda. Selective history features a quote by Duncan Campbell Scott who was in charge of the Indian Act of 1876. The quote reads;

“I want to get rid of the Indian problem. I do not think as a matter of fact, that the counting ought to continuously protect a class of people who are able to stand alone. Our objective is to continue until there is not a single Indian in Canada that has not been absorbed into the body politic and there is no Indian question and no Indian department. That is the whole object of this bill.”

This quote outlines how Western Civilization believed that Natives were beneath them and with the proper education and exposure to Western culture they could become civilized beings just like the Europeans. Steve loft, the curator of Ghost Dance speaks of how “for centuries, colonialism has been the cause of suffering, oppression and violence perpetuated against indigenous people in Canada and many other countries.” Activist art is a great medium for native people to showcase how their lifestyle is not less advanced, wrong, or in need of correction-it is simply different. Selective History is a powerful work that aids in doing so.
Round Dance by Alan Michelson
Another powerful art piece in Ghost Dance is Round Dance by Alan Michelson which is a 4 channel video installation with sound. The videos show a group of people holding hands in a circle and dancing counterclockwise while chanting a song. Each of the four videos are filmed facing each of the cardinal points with a landscape in the background. The landscape allows the work to take on a majestic quality That Brian O'Doherty speaks of in his article, Inside The White Cube: Notes on The Gallery Space. “Once you know that a patch of landscape represents a decision to exclude everything around it, you are faintly aware of the space outside the picture. The frame becomes a parenthesis.” Even though the work does not show the full circle, the curator has used the video monitors as a parenthesis around the picture to make you feel the presence of the whole circle. This effect is achieved by presenting Round Dance on 4 LED monitors mounted vertically, one on each of the four walls in the gallery space. These monitors also take on the characteristics of an easel picture, Which Brian O'Doherty compares to a portable window saying how “once (it is) set on the wall, (it) penetrates it with deep space.”
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