Considerations

Between Desire and Change

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The incubation period for press, for words on a page, the holding in the hands, is always so much longer in the end than what we convince ourselves it will be when we begin. It is almost as though it is impossible to make books. Except that there are libraries stacked full, proof otherwise. And now, another gem to add to those shelves: Desire Change: Contemporary Feminist Art in Canada (2017). Published by Winnipeg-based artist-run centre MAWA, the publication brings together contemporary Canadian feminist art through the entangled relations of desire and desire for change.

Desire Change: Contemporary Feminist Art in Canada is edited by Heather Davis and includes contributions by myself and Janice Anderson (Concordia University), Gina Badger (artist, writer, editor, Toronto), Noni Brynjolson (writer, San Diego), Amber Christensen (curator and writer, Toronto), Karin Cope (NSCAD), Lauren Fournier (artist, writer, and curator, York University), Amy Fung (curator and writer, Toronto), Kristina Huneault (Concordia University), Alice Ming Wai Jim (Concordia University), Tanya Lukin Linklater (artist, North Bay), Sheila Petty (University of Regina), Kathleen Ritter (curator and writer, Vancouver), Daniella Sanader (curator and writer, Toronto), Thérèse St. Gelais (UQAM), Ellyn Walker (Queen’s University), Jayne Wark (NSCAD) and Jenny Western (curator and writer, Winnipeg).

In my essay, I tried to work through some observations of and reflections on the 2013 exhibition Sakahàn: International Indigenous Art:

Theoretically, the exhibition was an expression of the difficult, hopeful work that is our living responsibility as cultural workers, gallery visitors, thinkers and citizens today in addressing the injustices of colonization, a project that I see as central to contemporary feminism. It is important to acknowledge that feminism is about more than ending sexism—it’s also about abolishing interconnected systems of oppression that affect different people in different ways, and in a Canadian context this importantly means working to acknowledge and then abolish colonial forms of dispossession. And yet, like a trailing stitch of wool hanging from a sweater, the [National Gallery of Canada] undid at least some of this work through a repeated gesture. At the entrance of the exhibition, where the spirit of “sakahàn”— an Algonquin word meaning to light a fire—was put forward as the organizing principle of the show, was this disclaimer: “The views and opinions expressed in this exhibition are those of the artists and do not reflect the views of the National Gallery of Canada.” Such disclaimers are not in regular use at the NGC nor are they common practice for exhibitions generally. The appearance of an additional 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), was therefore notable: “The views expressed in this work are those of the artist and do not reflect the views of the National Gallery of Canada.” In both cases, the language enacts a strict demarcation between the views of the NGC and the artists. The politics of the works on display do not align with the politics of the gallery itself.

This essay has been a long time in the making and finally it lives in the world. If it comes to rest upon your shelves, your desk, your hands, let’s talk more about what it means to install Indigenous art as feminists.

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