~ Research by the NMHS member
Dr. Carmen Robertson
© University of Regina
Carmen Robertson is on a mission to understand why Anishnaabe artist Norval Morrisseau’s work has been largely overlooked in the history of contemporary Canadian art until recently.
Robertson, an associate professor in the Department of Visual Arts at the University of Regina, says that discussions about Morrisseau’s work have been eclipsed despite the fact that in 2006 he became the first aboriginal artist to have work shown at the National Gallery of Canada. He was also the first contemporary artist to have work shown in mainstream galleries in Toronto.
Morrisseau, who died in 2007, created contemporary paintings that drew on indigenous aesthetics to explore issues surrounding colonialism, spirituality, and politics. “When you look closely at his work you see some amazing narratives,” explains Robertson. “His work is controversial and it is multilayered; that is what drew me to Norval Morrisseau.”
Still, Robertson explains that despite the many achievements of this artist, the media typically framed him as a noble savage. At times the press fashioned him as a shaman who was deeply connected to nature yet in the next breath cast him as a drunkard. As a result Morrisseau emerged in popular culture as a stereotypical character.
“Morrisseau understood that if he played the part of the shaman, Canadians would be intrigued,” says Robertson, who contends he embraced the shaman identity, in part, as a marketing device. It is as the shaman artist that he is best known, yet that is only one aspect of who he was as an artist. “His art pushes boundaries.”
Robertson explains that Morrisseau’s work was accepted more readily internationally than in his own country. In France, for example, in the late ‘60s he held an important exhibition attended by both Matisse and Picasso.
As part of her research, Robertson will access archives in Paris, Ottawa, Vancouver, and Red Lake, Ontario to complete a book project. As a board member for the Norval Morrisseau Heritage Society (NMHS), she is also engaged in the creation of a catalogue raisonné of Morrisseau’s substantial body of work.
“I think his importance within Canadian art history has been undermined and underappreciated because of racialized baggage; so I believe that my project is an opportunity to rethink his role within Canadian art history, not just Canadian aboriginal art history. In fact, it is easy to make a case that Norval Morrisseau was Canada’s greatest artist.”
Robertson’s research is funded through the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.
© University of Regina
Source: University of Regina Newsletter