What’s our Story?

The curatorial team is made up of a diverse group of individuals: a Native artist, two Ethnology curators, me – the art curator – and an intern from France who is researching on the representation of Native art in museums and galleries. We have spent a couple sessions now going over different ideas for the exhibition and we are finding that we all have very different visions of how this exhibition should look.

My role on this curatorial team has yet to be defined. I struggle constantly between excitement and fear. There seems to be a tremendous amount of engaging and experimental Native art in contemporary practice which I would love to explore for this exhibition. Yet, I struggle with my role as a non-Native museum professional taking up issues that are not my own. I’m a Vietnamese immigrant. I have my own cultural and political issues…

I hope to provide a critical perspective and consider the social and political implications of our role as a museum in the way Native art and cultures will be viewed and understood.

At this point, we want to combine Glenbow’s ethnographic material and its art collection by First Nations cultures and look at the tenuous relationship between notions of art and artifact. It has been a long-standing point of contention that Native art has been defined as craft, tourist trinket or anthropological documentation as opposed to art. But is it enough for us to merely illustrate that this material is art?  And whose definition would we be using to frame these objects as art?

There have been conflicting and irreconcilable opinions about Native art among Native writers. Gerald McMaster has suggested that we look at Native art as part of an “interrelated history.” According to McMaster, “Although Aboriginal history is many thousands of years older and far more complex, our interrelated history as Canadians is a thousand years old. During this time we have traded in materials and ideas, lived and struggled together, pictured each other differently, and contributed to this country.” Yet, Loretta Todd suggests that a separate art history is required to achieve self-determination for Aboriginal peoples. She asks: “Should we not seek a scholarship of our own, articulated not simply by placing us as new participants in their discourse on art, but instead by placing us on a path that moves on its own course, sometimes in their same direction, but just as often according to its own flux and flow?”

How do we negotiate these different viewpoints?…

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