Skip to main content

Aboriginal Art Exhibit One of a Kind in Winnipeg

  • Author:
  • Updated:

If Winnipeg has anything to say about it, aboriginal art has Arrived with a capital A.

With the work of 33 artists from all over the world spread out over five venues, Close Encounters: The Next 500 Years is the first of its kind, the “largest exhibition of contemporary aboriginal art anywhere in the world, ever,” the Winnipeg Free Pressreported.

The exhibition’s January opening helped unite the artists, many of whom already knew the others’ work. From New Zealand sculptor Brett Graham, who works in both the Maori and European traditions, to Winnipeg-born Métis Rosalie Favell, who culls ideas from her personal and family history to present the complexities of aboriginal womanhood, the exhibition represented a huge breadth and scope.

Graham is already in touch with fellow sculptors from Vancouver’s First Nations, but “east of that is new territory,” he told the Winnipeg Free Press at the opening.

He was joined by fellow indigenous artists from Canada, the U.S., South America, Europe, Australia and New Zealand, according to the exhibit’s curators.

The goal was to showcase artists and works “that collectively invent provocative futures from a diversity of perspectives and practices,” the exhibit’s site says.

Newly commissioned work from artists such as Rebecca Belmore, Faye HeavyShield, Kent Monkman, and Edward Poitras. Jimmie Durham’s sculptural work Pole to Mark the Centre of the World (at Winnipeg), challenged modern concepts about space and location, the curators said in their exhibit notes, and James Luna's poignant installation Spirits of Virtue and Evil Await my Ascension addressed “issues of ritual and the passing of time.”

Rather than looking back at the shock of early encounters between First Nations and European settlers, the pieces are “about possibilities of positive outcomes for the future,” the curators said, such as with Lisa Reihana, who weaves Maori prophecies and mythologies into her personal history and her people into a Digital Marae connecting “her past with an imagined future,” the exhibit notes say. Michael Belmore’s Smoulder, a hearth of carved stones and gold inlay, “alludes both to an extinguished flame and the hope of regeneration through fire, the site of beginnings and ends,” the curators noted.

The exhibit is designed to both showcase the talents of aboriginal artists and to bring them together. Said Graham to the Winnipeg Free Press: “Indigenous people can learn from each other because it’s the same issues everywhere.”

Besides the main site at 109 Pacific Avenue, the other exhibit venues are the Winnipeg Art Gallery, the Plug In Institute of Contemporary Art and the Manitoba Hydro tower.

More about the artists and the exhibit are here.

And a curatorial intern blogged about her experience at the opening here.