Tomorrow morning, bright and early, I will be participating in the English Department’s 5th annual graduate conference at the University of Toronto entitled Memory, Memorialization and Forgetting. It will be my first-ever academic conference and I’m going to try and reason through something that just won’t let go of a piece of my mind.
In 2013, the National Gallery of Canada (NGC) did a remarkable thing: they presented an international survey of contemporary Indigenous art entitled Sakahàn.
The way that Indigenous identification functioned in the context of Sakahàn was not only a claim of being from a place since time immemorial; it also marked an inextricable connection to experiences of colonization. Considering Canada’s colonial history, Sakahàn was aptly situated at the country’s national gallery, an institution which has often acted as a mechanism of colonial subjugation by way of its perpetuation of Eurocentric art-historical values and the related omission of artworks and narratives that emerge from other cultural traditions, notably artists and traditions of the Indigenous people of Canada.
Theoretically, the exhibition was a gesture of solidarity with the decolonial work that is our living responsibility as cultural workers, gallery visitors, thinkers and citizens today. And yet, the NGC undid at least some of this work through a repeated gesture: disclaimers that formally distanced the gallery from the politics of the work on display. Focusing on the appearance of a disclaimer directly next to the didactic panel for Nadia Myre’s For those who cannot speak: the land, the water, the animals and the future generations (2013), my presentation will discuss the responsibilities of curators and institutions in presenting work that directly engages decolonial politics within a colonial context. Situating the exhibition within the colonial legacy and institutional memory of the NGC, I will examine what curatorial responsibility might mean.
Come ask me tough questions.