At Art Toronto, a third of galleries feature Indigenous artists



Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas, “Falling Tide” (2020), presented by Gallery Jones at Art Toronto 2021 (all images courtesy of Art Toronto)

At the entrance to Art Toronto is a Land Reconnaissance: The fair, it is said, is held on the treaty lands of the Mississauga of the Credit First Nation, “an area upon which the Haudenosaunee, the Wendat and the Anishinaabe prospered over time ”. In Canada, which has more than 630 First Nations communities and more than 50 Indigenous languages, such recognition is essential. But it has special significance for this year’s edition of the country’s largest art fair, where a third of the more than 60 participating galleries showcase work by First Nations artists.

Maria Hupfield, “Truth Machine / Lie Detector” (2017), gold lamé and polyester fill, 41 x 10 inches, presented by Galerie Hugues Charbonneau.

Indigenous artists have been featured at the fair before – Montreal dealer and longtime Art Toronto participant Pierre-François Ouellette, for example, has presented work by Cree artists Kent Monkman and Meryl McMaster at the exhibition for several years. years. But the impressive participation of the First Nations The artwork for the 2021 edition is likely due to an increase in the number of galleries exhibiting and representing Indigenous artists in Canada and abroad, says Mia Nelsen, Director of Art Toronto.

“There has been no call for galleries to submit specific work, only to submit their best work,” Nelsen told Hyperallergic.

The physical show opened to the public today at the Metro Toronto Convention Center and runs throughout the weekend, but a parallel virtual version of the fair, which includes viewing rooms and virtual reality exhibits, is available until November 7.

“As Canada’s international art fair, we have the opportunity to connect with a large and diverse audience to share the history of Canadian art,” said Nelsen. “The First Nations perspective is central to this story. “

Meryl McMaster, “When The Storm Ends I Will Finish My Work” (2021), presented by Pierre-François Ouellette Contemporary Art

Note also the presence of galleries specializing in the work of First Nations artists, more than ever at the fair. Five of them – K Art in Buffalo, New York; Feheley Fine Art in Toronto; and Fazakas Gallery, Ceremonial / Art, and Marion Scott Gallery in Vancouver – exhibit exclusively Indigenous artists. K Art, which opened its 2,000-square-foot space last year, is also native-owned, founded by Dave Kimelberg of the Seneca Nation of Indians (Bear Clan).

“Indigenous art has a lot to offer and I think the sharing and amplification of Indigenous voices in the contemporary art world is a huge asset to the conversation,” Fazakas director and curator told Hyperallergic. Gallery, LaTiesha Fazakas. “Showing Indigenous artwork at art fairs really helps advance those voices and create an opportunity to deepen and enrich the dialogue. The gallery has two presentations at Art Toronto, a group booth as well as a site-specific installation of laser cut paintings and assemblage works by Métis Cree artist Jason Baerg that reflect the original Mohawk word for the town, “Tkaronto,” which means “where there are trees standing in the water.”

Works by Jason Baerg at Art Toronto, presented by the Fazakas Gallery (courtesy Fazakas Gallery)

Devan Patel, co-owner and director of the Patel Brown Gallery, believes that “a true conversation about Canadian art cannot take place without the presence of Indigenous voices.”

Native Art Department International, “Double Fake Double Morrisseau” (2021), acrylic on paper, 24 x 18 inches, presented by Patel Brown.

Patel Brown’s booth at Art Toronto showcases Indigenous artwork alongside works by creators from different backgrounds. Meticulous linocuts by Japanese-Canadian artist Alexa Hatanaka on handmade washi paper join the stunning colored pencil drawings of the late Inuk artist Tim Pitsiulak. Oluyese’s elegant patinated bronze sculptures, whose work is often inspired by his Yoruba heritage, meet the vibrant acrylics of Native Art Department International, the collaborative project of Toronto Indigenous artists Maria Hupfield and Jason Lujan.

Art Toronto also hosts conversations and programs both in-person and online during the duration of the show, some of which can be watched on-demand, such as a panel with Patricia Marroquin Norby, hired as a full-time first Native American art. curator at the Metropolitan Museum of Art last September. Norby joined a discussion on “decolonizing museums and collections” with curator John G. Hampton and Indigenous artists Jason Baerg and Julia Rose Sutherlan, moderated by Greg Hill, Senior Curator of Indigenous Art at the Museum of the Fine Arts of Canada.

Sonny Assu, “Breakfast Series” (2006), presented by Art Mur and Equinox Gallery.

Increasing the visibility of Native American, First Nations and other Indigenous artists at fairs like Art Toronto, which attract collectors and curators from around the world, is an important step in addressing their marginalization in the mainstream institutional and commercial stream. . Still, work remains to be done, not only in terms of representation by numbers, but to complicate perceptions of what the art of this large and diverse community can look like. This range and breadth is on display at the fair, from the ‘Falling Tide’ wall sculpture by Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas (2020), rendered in copper foil on a metal car hood, to Sonny Assu’s ‘Breakfast Series’ (2006 ), cereal boxes with a Pop Art twist that subversively raises issues facing First Nations people, with names like “Treaty Flakes” and “Lucky Beads”.

“It is important to present contemporary Indigenous art to question and expand the reductive and expected aesthetic of Indigenous art in the art world, and to allow the work to be appreciated beyond its cultural identifiers, ”Patel said. “Most importantly, we must cultivate and advocate for under-represented voices to empower and support the next generation of Indigenous leaders and BIPOC. ”

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