Friday, 31 May 2013

SAKAHÀN International Indigenous Art Exhibit

The new summer show at the National Gallery of Canada has opened. I was instantly taken by this exhibit and its character, wonderful art, representing the various artists and indigeneous people from around the world, on exhibit the work of 75 artists from 16 countries, all with an indigenous history of conquest by foreign elements in all 150 works of art.

Sakahàn (to light a fire in Algonquin) is not only provocative but helps us to think about issues in our society, of conflicts, domination, dominant culture and contradictions, how we rationalize what has happened and possibly gain a better understanding.

In Canada, we, like elsewhere, are much influenced by our myths as a Nation, this exhibits challenges those officially sanctioned views or National myths. I am thinking here of the artist of Cree ancestry Kent Monkman and his painting ''The triumph of Mischief''. A disturbing piece for sure because of what it shows, it is a challenge to our Western Concepts. Monkman has in all his art work questioned the official version of history. Someone said that to believe Official History was the same as believing verbatim the word of a convicted criminal.  Monkman turns the tables on the viewer, it is the Indigenous man who has the upper hand not the colonialists.

The other exhibits from various parts of the world also shows the myths of countries like Australia, New Zealand, various African and Latin American countries.  The exhibit raises questions about suppressing cultures or rejecting cultural aspects which are not acceptable to Western ideas of culture in a Judeo-Christian frame.

No doubt many attending this exhibit will feel uncomfortable. I listened to some comments around me, one person questioned the painting presented, was the scenery real, did it really exist. According to the explanation in the exhibit catalogue, it was Yosemite Park. Still this person questioned if this was true.

Another art work portrayed a person in 3 different poses, all were different but this person looking at them voiced the comment that there was no difference. While another walked right by the work in question and other works as if seeing nothing but looking instead for the Exit. The eyes would not see what was obvious. Many of the art work portrays naked bodies, naked in the way nature intended them to be, basically unclothed humans, nothing more. Some show indigenous people in a dominant position compared to western people in a submissive attitude. There are erect phallus, but it is an arousal that is natural and not aggressive nor shown in a commercial pornographic way, but in a natural almost medical text book setting, but also mischievous. From the reactions around me, I would gather that these works are seen as threatening to some.

There is much exploration of the Berdache type of person in the native Canadian concept, this duality of personality, transgender or of the Indigenous Dandy type which is acceptable in the European Dandy model but not so in the Canadian Indigenous model.

This exhibit is refreshing because it present indigenous people and their artwork and culture as they are and not as we would like them to be or as we define them. The message is '' I can be an indigenous person with traditional beliefs and modern all at the same time''.

An interesting note, when the first white settlers came to Australia they declared that the continent was un-inhabited, despite the fact that hundreds of thousands of Maoris lived there, the settlers saw them as non-persons, non-humans, in other words no one lived there.

A wonderful exhibit well worth seeing if for no other purpose than to educate oneself. It is curated by Greg A. Hill, Christine Lalonde and Candice Hopkins. See website:


  1. In the Haunted House of Life, Art is the only stair that doesn't creak.

  2. I like that quote. Making a note of it. This could be used to great effect.

  3. Nope, think of it as a Bon mot, given to the world.