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God’s Country / Gzhe-minidoo Ki
Scott Benesiinaabandan, Douglas Cardinal
Tannis Neilson & Frank Shebageget
Curators: Howard Adler (Lac des Mille Lacs First Nation)
Christopher Wong (Chippewa’s of Nawash First Nation)
June 21 to July 28, 2012, Opening Thursday, June 21 6:30–8:30pm
God’s Country is a radio station for Christian country and southern gospel music... God’s Country is located in Potters County, Pennsylvania, it is “unspoiled, untouched” and “untamed”… God’s Country is a modern day story of slavery, young women ignored by the police and protected by "freedom of religion" are trapped in polygamous communities scattered throughout North America… God’s Country, often abbreviated to “godzone,” is a phrase that has been used by New Zealanders and Australians to describe their homeland… God’s Country was used by the Confederate army to describe parts of Tennessee in the 1860’s, it was also used to describe California, and to describe the land of the Mississippi plains; it is still occasionally used to describe the United States, and parts of Canada.
God’s Country / Gzhe-minidoo Ki features four contemporary Aboriginal artists whose works innovatively challenge histories of colonization. Appropriating a ubiquitous phrase with religious connotations, the exhibitions title symbolically reclaims Indigenous lands by placing western notions of ownership and possession into an Indigenous context. When translated into Anishinaabemowin (the Ojibwa Language), the term loses its power to claim Indigenous lands as belonging to the deity of the colonizing group. The artists in this exhibition explore issues of past wrongdoings and processes of colonization, but also demonstrate decolonial practices and strategies for reclaiming Indigenous voice. They find ways to honor the traditions and teachings of their ancestors by not forgetting their stories, and by incorporating structures found on the land, and in nature, into their artistic practices. This oeuvre of work is not only about the Canadian context, but also addresses shared colonial legacies across international borders. God’s Country / Gzhe-minidoo Ki asks the viewer to consider how Indigenous peoples continue to grapple with difficult colonial legacies, and to think about how they are implicated in these histories.
Douglas Cardinal’s design of the Museum of the American Indian, part of the Smithsonian Institute in Washington D.C., and his design of St. Albert’s Place, a provincial government building located in Ponoka, Alberta. Both buildings reflect Cardinal’s characteristic curvilinear design, which in the museum represents the nurturing female forms of Mother Earth, while in St. Albert’s Place it dispels the rigidity associated with the Alberta Government. Also on display is Cardinal’s Blueprint for the Asinabka National Indigenous Centre on Victoria Island in Ottawa, Ontario. The Centre is a Circular Building open to the four directions and the solstice lines, it faces east to symbolize reconciliation and a new dawn, and it is shaped to symbolize the Seven fires prophecy of the Anishinaabe people.
Frank Shebageget’s installation piece is titled Lodge. Ubiquitous with travel to remote northern communities, the Beaver floatplane has become synonymous with modern innovation, resource speculation and by association, the exploitation of Native Peoples and lands in the pursuit of commercial interests. Here, this ‘Beaver dam’ points to the practice of hydro-electric generation, the displacement of communities and the devastation of vast wilderness areas.
Scott Benesiinaabandan’s experimental video piece Ak-Sunrise was created as a part of the Canada Council for the Arts Australia/Canada Indigenous Urban Artist Exchange program Jan-April 2012. This work was created as a part of the exhibition Mii Omaa Ayaad/Oshiki Inenedamowin (someone lives here/new thought) that was a series of new work that explored shared colonial histories of First Nations in Canada and Aboriginal Australians. It deals with ideas, histories and the present issues of land (terra nullius) language and resistance.
Tannis Nielsen’s Not forgotten, is an experimental video about the loss of language and culture, and the detrimental effects of assimilation policies through residential schools, convents, and sanatoriums. It’s repetitive visuals and ethereal soundscape reflect traumatic memories of institutional experiences, notions of cultural loss and survival, intergenerational effects, and the importance of not forgetting this important history.
Architect, designer, planner, activist, philosopher, and artist, Douglas Cardinal is that and more. Douglas Cardinal’s life is dedicated to creating beautiful, thriving, and harmonious built environments. As an architect, he builds buildings, as a planner and activist he builds communities, and as a leader and philosopher, he builds bridges between dispersed cultures all over the world. Douglas Cardinal personifies the timelessness of a master builder. Born in 1934 in Calgary, Alberta, his mother augured early in his childhood that he would become an architect. His architectural studies at The University of British Columbia took him to Austin, Texas, where he worked at Jesson Milhouse Greeven with Fred Day and acquired scholarships to study at the renowned School of Architecture at The University of Texas. There he found an intellectually stimulating and socially invigorating environment where in addition to his education in architecture, he benefited from actively involving himself in the many human rights initiatives ignited in the United States in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s. This commitment to bettering human conditions continues to be one of the major principles of his architecture, from the smallest detail to the overall design or master plan. He continues his holistic multidisciplinary practice in Ottawa, Ontario where he currently resides.
Frank Shebageget (Ojibway) is an installation artist from northwestern Ontario, and currently resides in Ottawa. His work reflects his continued interest in the geography of the Canadian Shield and the aesthetic qualities of everyday materials. Using repetition, he explores the tense relationships between production, consumption, and the economics of beauty, often by playing with the incongruity of mass production versus the handcrafted object. Shebageget graduated with his A.O.C.A. from the Ontario College of Art in 1996, and received his Master of Fine Arts degree from the University of Victoria in 2000. Shebageget maintains a professional exhibiting artistic practice, with a studio at Enriched Bread Artists.
Scott Benesiinaabandan is an Anishinabe artist who works in photography, printmaking, and video, among other media. Scott has recently completed an international residency at Context Gallery in Derry, North of Ireland (2010) and in Oklahoma with photographer Rita Leistner (2009). In the past four years, Benesiinaabandan has been awarded grants from the Manitoba Arts Council and the Winnipeg Arts Council for his artistic work. Benesiinaabandan has taken part in several group exhibitions across Canada and in the United States, most notably in Subconscious City at the Winnipeg Art Gallery in 2008, Harbourfont’s Flatter the Land/Bigger the Ruckus in 2006 and recently presented his first solo exhibition, unSacred, at Gallery 1C03.
Tannis Nielsen is Cree, Danish, and Métis. In 2006, she obtained her Masters of Visual studies degree from the University of Toronto. Today, Tannis continues to practice as a professional visual artist / educator, her most recently held position is as instructor at the Ontario College of Art and Design, where for three years she has taught a liberal studies course that utilizes post-colonial, decolonization methodologies, as a means of contextualizing Indigenous art. As well as a practicing visual arts Professional, Tannis’ latest curatorial exhibition focused on the similarity and difference of colonization as experienced currently in both Canada and Palestine. Invited artists included John Halaka, Emily Jacir, Erica Lord, and James Luna. This exhibition was held at A-Space gallery in 2008.
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