Speaking Difference

In the spring 2010 issue of Fuse magazine, Jesse McKee engages in discussion with members of the Aboriginal Curatorial Collective (ACC), a community that “supports, promotes and advocates on behalf of First Nations (Indian, Inuit and Métis) art, artists, curators, and representatives of arts and cultural organizations in Canada and internationally.” I am not a member of the collective, but many curators I respect are, including Steve Loft and Candice Hopkins (both of whom participate in the conversation).

The ACC is Canada’s only national service organization focused on curatorial practices. Membership is open to active participants in critical and curatorial communities, though full and unrestricted involvement in the organization is reserved for Canadian Aboriginals. Hopkins draws attention to the obvious lack of a service organization for other Canadian curators, but I am curious about the potential for the ACC to function for this broader collection of practitioners.

Considering the ACC as a possible place for a diverse collection of curators to gather means to problematize the Aboriginal distinction of the group’s intent. That full membership is available only to Canadian Aboriginals sets a barrier for inclusion or exclusion, and thus a dynamic of belonging versus otherness. The corollary is that Aboriginal realities and practices are prioritized.

These kinds of demarcations certainly have a purpose, such as their potential to draw attention to erased and missing histories. However, it seems a misstep, on the one hand, to speak about the need to revisit historical records to challenge what is understood to be normative, and, on the other hand, to stake a claim for a particular, favoured history.

It is enormously valuable that the ACC creates a space for an alliance of curators that want to critically examine the breadth of artistic practices that fall outside of common art-historical narratives.

The mandate of the ACC highlights the role that Aboriginal curators play in “protecting, fostering and extending Aboriginal arts and culture in North America and around the world.” I imagine what it would mean if the organization expanded their mandate to encompass a more general exploration of the role curators play in creating canons, and how non-dominant social, political and artistic movements can be represented in the historical narratives we write for future generations. In this vision, the machine of history is provoked into responsible understandings of itself.

I worry that a focus on Aboriginal history per se might simultaneously diminish other whispered histories, propagating the very power structures the ACC sets itself up to challenge. Given the historical narratives bequeathed to my generation, there is a need to actively seek Aboriginal perspectives in order to attain a more accurate understanding of the past and present, but what about stories that are not red or white?

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