A First Nations Summer

From la Grande Bibliothèque to the Canadian Guild of Crafts, via the McCord Museum, Terres en vues / Land InSights and its friends and partners are launching a daring exploration of First Nations artists' worlds of imagination. From the wide range of visions revealed by the seven creators of the First Nations' Written Heritage exhibit, showing at la Grande Bibliothèque, to the metamorphoses of myths and legends sculpted by the Inuit artists of We come from Nunavik, hosted by the Canadian Guild of Crafts, a fabulous journey into the imagination opens up before our eyes. The adventure resumes as soon as we walk through the doors of the McCord Museum, and take in the museum's show of Robert Davidson's stunning works that will change the way we look at West Coast First Nations art.

First Nations Written Heritage: Exploring, Annotating, Revealing


La machine à explorer les signes,
Raymond Dupuis

Seven First Nations artists are showing works with a close relation to a document or documents of a founding nature for these artists or for their nation of origin. Transcriptions or translations into Aboriginal languages of texts with key historic significance for these societies, as well as translations or transcriptions into French or English of mythological accounts, stories, legends and chants drawn from oral tradition make up what can be called the First Nations Written heritage. The artists' specific creative approaches will cast a contemporary light on this written heritage.

Based on an account of traditional Innu life by Mathieu André, Jean- Pierre Fontaine and Isabelle Courtois from the Ashukuan collective depict a conflict between spiritualities, which even today leaves a deep fault line in many people's hearts. Mathieu's deep insider knowledge of Innu sacred ceremonies enabled him to transmit a heritage born of an oral tradition threatened with extinction after the missionaries came, in book form. The bas-relief Ashukan has created, with its broken-up appearance of plates floating in indefinite space is a good metaphor for the rending of hearts: will the two halves of a broken circle ever reunite, making the era of harmony the circle represents reality once again?

Pauline Lahache

La déchirure (detail),

Contes de la mythologie athapaskanne (detail),
Virginia Pésémapéo Bordeleau

Nature vivante javelisée (detail),
Georgette Obomsawin

Bonne nuit Eastman river,
Glenna Matoush

H.L. Masta (1853-1943),
Sylvain Rivard

Coiffe cérémoniale,
Pauline Lahache

Contes de la mythologie athapaskanne (detail),
Virginia Pésémapéo Bordeleau

With Prophesy, Pauline Lahache takes up the essential theme of Mohawk spirituality. The Great Tree of Peace is a powerful unifying symbol today and for many, knowing its meanings, remains the path to peace, which is the Law for the Iroquois. The eagle figure atop the tree reminds us that there can be no peace without vigilance. Prophesy is a paradoxical work in that its gilded surface refers to a certain school of Catholic statuary. The question of whether or not the artist is ironic or not remains open. The ceremonial headdress completing Pauline Lahache's contribution is worn by a chief during a condolence ceremony held in the Longhouse. So it is a sacred object whose making, from the selection of its materials to the meticulous arrangement of its motifs, is in itself a prayer.

La Machine à explorer les signes, by Raymond Dupuis, is a combination fax, computer, photocopier, projector and goodness-only-knows what else, all of that scrambled with a mad scientist's zeal. Fed a supply of Hopi pictograms, the machine goes berserk and crosses worlds and epochs, losing its bearings like a broken clock. The end-product does relate to time: a xerography of the time when Hopi signs will be grafted onto the urban landscape in a present time perpetually breaking out, like breaking out into laughter.

If Jacques Cartier seemed to view animals he came upon during his travels as nothing but savage beasts, Georgette Obomsawin has played ornithologist by compiling a list of Cartier's birds. Everything seems to be going well in this avian world, a picture-perfect place, except for two tiny tombstones, near the passenger pigeon and the great penguin, a sombre note in this idyllic setting. Obamsawin's other work plunges us into a hallucinatory universe where, by a strange turnabout, a housecat became a beste sauvage in turn.

Virginia Pésémapéo Bordeleau has also chosen storybook animals as a subject. Caribou, foxes, bears and beavers in a cooking pot as well as the great crow, the butterfly and the spider are all subjected to the great laws of the living world. Their attributes and tribulations have provided substance to fables and given legends their hold on reality. Without these creatures, the world of human beings would be only solitude and darkness. Virginia Pésémapéo Bordeleau is more used to working on a large scale, with a painter's broad brushwork. Here, she has delved into the patient craft of etching; an introspective climate permeates her images peopled with hieratic beings busily cutting through the mysteries of many worlds.

Glenna Matoush's highly shamanic art, so attentive to the sufferings of souls, deals with territorial devastation this time. Rather than a book, Matoush has given us a river to read. Bonne Nuit Eastman River is a hardhitting work, a stone in the water against blind development. And yet, despite its scattered bones and harsh treatment, it is not a work of despair. The great beaded river crossing the canvas reminds us that it carries life from one end of its lands to the other. Between a scream and an invocation, a voice is raised against the silence of devastation.

Ethnologist artist Sylvain Rivard has drawn upon his knowledge of ancient craftwork techniques in a work paying homage to Henry Lorne Masta. A panel made of braided beech wood, punctuated with dyed and pyrographed signs, refers to Masta's Abenaki origins. Elements hooked onto the panel allude to key moments in his life. Beyond any interpretation, this work is a perfect example of Rivard's constant concern with bringing practices from the art crafts into the contemporary art field. What might first seem to be an ethnological showcase is actually an installation, a space for reflection and an homage to the artist's deep respect for a man who has devoted his life to Abenaki culture and language.

These seven artists have plotted out routes for us to follow, with signposts to trick us up. Displaying these works in the tight spaces of exhibit showcases lends them an intimate character and gives rise to interesting juxtapositions. Between Lahache's gilded statuary and Matoush's beaded river, beyond the fact that these artists come from the First Nations, how else can their works intertwine and how will they snare us in? From one artist to another, from one work to its neighbour, we move about as if we were turning pages in a picture book, and it is a delight. We can read and re-read between the lines, lose ourselves amongst legends and anecdotes, and find ourselves once more caught up in a peal of laughter or the revelation of heartrending sorrows. The artists are sharing their role in keeping the world turning.


"I use ancient techniques such as basket-weaving in an attempt to create a contemporary ethnological art form closer to Aboriginal identity and that goes beyond cultural fusion. I have a question? Why should we leave artefacts to the scientists and art to First Nations artists when syncretism is possible?"

"In his story, Mathieu André puts an equal emphasis on ancestral beliefs and the sacred rituals of the Innu and the new religion brought by Catholic missionaries. He even seems to contradict himself as the Church condemned the rituals that it viewed as Satanic. Even today, some Innu converts actually think their ancient rituals are somehow pernicious.

We wanted to express this opposition among beliefs and practices while showing that the two approaches could exchange with each other in some way without destroying each other".

In his recent work, Raymond Dupuis explores what he calls urban territories. His photo collages show fractured locations, attacked on all sides by colours and signs reverberating on the surface of his canvasses. His Machine à explorer les signes is a fantastic approach to the genesis of his current work. More seriously, it refers to the persistence of signs inspired by Hopi pictograms in his work.

Placed side-by-side, Pauline Lahache's two works are so astonishing that they seem to come from opposing universes. And yet, the magnificent ceremonial headdress and the eagle on it tree in Prophesy come out of Iroquois spirituality, an inexhaustible source of inspiration for the artist. The ceremonial headdress belongs to a chief and it is worn during the condolence ceremony, which is one of the Longhouse ceremonies. With the tree of peace and the Longhouse, we are in the heart of Mohawk spiritual life; Pauline Lahache wanted to have her works underline the importance of this spiritual tradition, by giving Prophesy some of the codes of Christian iconography, and its persistence, in the making of an object of a sacred nature, imbued with deep faith.

"The wildcat would be the red lynx. Dyn would be deer. As for Serf, it would be a wapiti or Canada deer. These days, wapiti has probably utterly disappeared from our regions.

On May 10 1534, Jacques Cartier landed in Newfoundland. From then on, he was far more interested in the fauna than in the Aboriginal inhabitants".

Illustrated tales open the borderless world of the Dene Shamans up to us. Bear, Fox, Beaver, Loon, Butterfly and Spider can transmit their gifts to humans. Shamans draw their power from their contacts with animal persons. Virginia Pésémapéo Bordeleau compiled her Contes de la mythologie athapaskanne, based on Marie- Françoise Guédon's book Le rêve et la forêt, Histoires de chamanes nabesna. These tales speak to us of the needs, problems and even the errors of the community they belong to. The artist has made them her own, not as someone might hoard a treasure but with a concern for sharing them as a revelation. The apparent calm reigning in her images is misleading; the Shamans are on the watch. Malin Castor will learn that soon enough.

Urgent, urgent, skulls seem to scream, dykes have closed again, nightmare under the dams, villages have drowned, territories wiped off the map, bewildered humanity has turned on the TV for the final game, Glenna Matoush hasn't read all about the Peace of the Brave, she went there and one day a great river flowed out of her Montreal studio.

Nunavimmiuguvugut / We Come from Nunavik

May 25 to June 30, 2006
1460 Sherbrooke Street W., Montreal
(514) 849-6091
Tuesday to Friday:10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Saturday: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Thomassie Echalook

"The eleven artists invited to create the works in this exhibit come from the villages of Inukjuak, Puvirnituk, Akulivik, Ivujivik and Kanqiqsujuak. They are seasoned creative artists whose works are known and collected in Canada and abroad.

They were chosen among the some hundred artists working in Nunavik on the basis of their immense talent and professionalism and also because almost all of them experiences life before modern villages and snowmobiles: life in igloos, hunting and fishing, of survival, and also of legends and taboos.

They are witnesses and defenders of their culture and provide dazzling proof of that here".

Maurice Achard, curator

Haida Art: Mapping an Ancient Language

April 29 to October 22 2006
690 Sherbrooke Street West
Montréal, 514 398-7100
Tuesday to Friday: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Saturday and Sunday: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Open on holiday Mondays and throughout the summer period: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Haida Art: Mapping an Ancient Language presented at McCord from April 29 to October 22 2006, accompanies the exhibit: Robert Davidson: the Abstract Edge also presented at the Museum from May 27 to October 15, 2006.

The McCord Haida collection is one of the earliest and most significant in North America. The exhibition highlights over eighty works of art, providing a glimpse at the artistic and cosmological universe of Haida culture in all its splendour and complexity.

The Haida artistic style can be compared to a formal language based on a kind of visual grammar, with a vocabulary that consists of animals and mythological creatures, depicted in a naturalistic or an abstract style.

Robert Davidson - The Abstract Edge

690 Sherbrooke Street West
Montréal, 514 398-7100
Tuesday to Friday: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Saturday and Sunday: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Open on holiday Mondays and throughout the summer period: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Rapace, 2003
Red cedar and acrylic,
Robert Davidson

Paintings and sculptures by a leading contemporary Haida artist, whose works transform our understanding of Northwest Coast Aboriginal art and cultural practice.

A travelling exhibition produced by the Museum of Anthropology at the University of British Columbia and circulated by the National Gallery of Canada.


"The Abstract Edge: Robert Davidson and Contemporary Aboriginal Arts Practice"

Friday, May 26, 2006
English and French
12:30 p.m. to 4 p.m.
J.-Armand-Bombardier Theatre

KEYNOTE SPEAKER : Robert Davidson

Organized in conjunction with the Faculty of Fine Arts, Concordia University and the Gail and Stephen A. Jarislowsky Institute for Studies in Canadian Art, the symposium will bring together artists, curators and academics from across Canada to discuss Aboriginal contemporary art.

SPEAKERS INCLUDE: Guy Sioui Durand, Mattiusi Iyaituk, Sylvie Poirier, Sherry Farrell Racette, Carmen Robertson

Shipibo-Konibo Embroidery from the Peruvian Amazon forest

5364 St-Lawrence Blvd
Tuesday and Thursday: 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Thursday and Friday: 9:30 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Saturday: 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Embroidery threads follow the trail of stars on a background with the colours of the Ucayali River: a mythological world transferred onto cotton. Fluid motifs emerge at the place where the Ayahuasca vine, Lord Anaconda and the great boa interact. Shipibo thought is metaphorical; it proceeds by analogy and draws close links among disparate things. Shipibo women embroider these dreams of birds, snakes, flowers and stars in linear tracings whose vibrato graphics are a specific feature of Shipibo culture.

An exhibit of textile works and a few other pieces collected on location by Sylvain Rivard, artist and ethnologist