A first-ever exhibition for the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto opens today: Before and After the Horizon: Anishinaabe Artists of the Great Lakes.
The Anishinaabe Peoples gave us many of the place names we use today in the Canadian province of Ontario:
Algonquin, Attawapiskat, Etobicoke, Gananoque, Kanata, Kapuskasing, Manitoulin, Mississauga, Niagara, Nipigon, Ontario, Oshawa, Ottawa, Penetanguishene, Petawawa, Temagami, Tyendinaga, Wasaga, Wawa, Wikwemikong.
Anishinaabeg have lived in the Great Lakes region for thousands of years – and include the Algonquin, Chippewa, Mississauga, Nipissing, Ojibwe, Odawa, Potawatomi and Saulteaux Peoples. Their social-cultural-geographical landscape comprises what are now the provinces of Québec, Ontario and Manitoba here in Canada, and eight states in the USA which border the five Great Lakes (Superior, Michigan, Huron, Erie and Ontario).
Before and After the Horizon is a joint effort of the A.G.O. and the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C. Curated by David Penney and Gerald McMaster, the show combines spear points and axe blades from 1000 BCE, with Keesic Douglas’ arched-eyebrow, very “now” Lifestyle photos; turn-of-the-century Ojibwe “floral leggings” of cotton, velvet, glass beads and metal discs, with Nadia Myre’s series of red-and-white “beaded over” pages from the federal government’s Indian Act; practical yet decorative boxes made of birchbark, porcupine quills, spruce root and sweetgrass, with Arthur Shilling’s Expressionist Self-Portrait; a Chippewa saddle blanket and bandolier bag – both exquisitely beaded – with a Wally Dion collage of computer circuit boards.
Carl Ray, Carl Beam, Robert Houle, Frank Big Bear, and Métis painter Christi Belcourt expand the idea of contemporary Anishinaabe art and – of course – there are the still fresh, still bold canvases of Norval Morrisseau (1932-2007), the greatest painter Canada has ever known. His Psychic Space (1996) thrills with its depiction of humanity in unrestrained colours. And in the neighbouring 20th-century Canadian gallery, A.G.O.curator Andrew Hunter has had the lightbulb idea – long-overdue – of re-jigging the space so as to give a 1977 Morrisseau masterpiece, the six-panel Man Changing Into Thunderbird, pride of place in a new and improved setting. (Previously, the work had been stuck in a long, underlit corridor with poor sightlines.) The majestic Treaty Robe for Tecumseh – an intervention created by Bonnie Devine– is also a welcome addition to the same gallery.
Curator Hunter says: “This is a powerful exhibition that is very much about this place [for the A.G.O. is situated in the very heart of traditional Anishinaabe territory] and its timeless connection to a distinct worldview, one that continues to resonate with Anishinaabeg.”