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Entries in exhibitions (2)

Monday
Mar212016

Wearing Our Identity; measured in spoons

Widow's amauti. Eastern Arctic, Inuit: Nunatsiarmiut, 1890-1897. Sealskin, seal fur, glass beads, silver?, lead, brass, pewter?, spoons, coins, wool braid, linen? thread. © McCord Museum M5836 This is a widow's amauti. It has a small, flat baby pouch just below the hood in the back, indicating the widow's former role as a child-bearer (from birth until about two years of age, Inuit babies are carried in an amaut under the mother's hood). In the early 1800s, non-Aboriginal explorers, whalers and traders began providing the Inuit with an array of trade goods, including dyed cloth, coins, metal utensils and glass beads.

Robert Everett-Green has reviewed, briefly but succinctly in the Globe & Mail, the current McCord Museum exhibition, Wearing Our Identity curated by Guislaine Lemay.  Nadia Myre, Algonquin artist in residence at the McCord, has chosen pieces from McCord’s collection plus new work by a range of aboriginal artists.  Everett-Green raises the issue of appropriation in such an exhibition, referring to the amauti, above, which has a line of pewter spoons attached to the front and pennies sewn on the back, pointing out that while the term appropriation is applied to Victorian middle-class ladies doing Indian beadwork patterns from The Ladies Home Journal, it does not apply to the widow in Baffin Island sewing spoons on her amauti.  It is a question of power, he posits. 

Victorian middle-class women were denied much participation in an outside life but they were allowed to do crafts – watercolours, needlework, and there were magazines that gave them instructions (impossible as Myre demonstrates).  Although they had more power than any aboriginal woman had, or has in the main even today, the Inuit widow had more freedom to make her own elaborations on her own parka.  

One of the most salient things I learned, long ago during my postcolonial education, was in the reading of Jean Rhys’s The Wide Sargasso Sea, the back history of Jane Eyre through the lens of the other: the ones without power, the women, the fragile and the dangerous.  It is Antoinette Crosby’s nurse, Christophine, who says to Mr Rochester, newly arrived to take blind possession of a wife, a plantation and all its inhabitants, you know some things, I know other things – I paraphrase wildly, but the gist is that power doesn’t know everything, it actually doesn’t know anything other than itself; while the putatively powerless know a hell of a lot about the world, their environment, their culture, relationships of power – their survival depends upon this knowledge when brute force isn’t an option.

Yes, whether something is appropriation or adoption is a matter of power: the powerful take, those with a different kind of awareness incorporate the signs and materials at hand, whether they be trade goods or baseball caps: the original meaning of such materials is subverted by a different set of codes, inaccessible to power: it is the development of a decolonising language.

Thursday
Jun022011

souvenirs: opening borders/opening objects

Sofia Isajiw. A plate from the Veselka Restaurant, New York.

Opening Borders/Opening Objects is an online curated exhibition from the University of Western Ontario: little information on it, such as who was the curator, just a map showing where the contributing artists are from and where they live now, a really interesting curatorial statement and a list of artists that link to a souvenir they chose to explain.

'Opening borders' refers to Bourriaud's 'fertile static on the borders between consumption and production'.  It questions the modernist view that artistic production somehow has an authenticity lacking in objects of consumption – souvenirs, tourist rubbish, reproductions, things from WalMart, or any sort of market anywhere.  Opening Borders/Opening Objects presents often mass-produced objects of little obvious inherent meaning as embedded in a number of very personal factors: who chose it, where was it, where does it live now, what memories does it trigger, what were the circumstances of its first sighting, what is it?

Opening Borders/Opening Objects also places the artist in the twenty-first century as among the most mobile people in our societies: they travel a lot.  They come home.  They bring things.  They give things away.  They get gifts.  What aesthetic or cultural values reside in these objects? for this isn't about money, rather it is about indifferent objects that conjure other worlds, other times, other places.  

There is a good reference list with the curatorial statement: a defining discussion of material culture theory in 2011.

The exhibition will be online from May 1, 2010 to August 30, 2010

Victor Trasov. An S-Bahn ticket from the Berlin of the DDR. Jamelie Hassan. A Syrian glass jug.