MacKenzie Art Gallery, Regina, Saskatchewan
Photography: Don Healy, Regina Leader-Post
Writing by By ASHLEY MARTIN, The Leader-Post
December 10th, 2013
Six years ago, Michelle LaVallee completed her first installation art project.
A wooden crate with a green Canada Dry logo supports a Hudson Bay striped point blanket. Three 1920s Canadian textbooks are leafed open, sidling and topping the crate.
Though they represent our country’s history, the books make little mention of the First Nations whose lives were forever changed when settlers arrived. LaVallee pulled examples of indigenous history from the archives; she inserted them into the textbooks, which is part of the reason they don’t lay closed.
“I was annoyed that this history was missing or neglected and it wasn’t because it didn’t exist,” she says.
“It’s a very didactic piece” that symbolizes LaVallee’s own education and upbringing.
Growing up in Toronto, she knew little about her Ojibway roots. She says her fine arts and education degrees at York University, like those 1920s history books, neglected to mention aboriginal artists.
The installation has toured since it debuted in Ottawa in 2007 — she thinks it’s in New York somewhere right now. But her first installation was her last art project. As it continues to enlighten the public about indigenous history, so does she in her new career.
LaVallee became a curator in 2005, one of only a handful of aboriginal curators at Canadian artistic institutions. In that role, she has endeavoured to represent indigenous artists who have historically been ignored.
She achieves that in her latest exhibit at the MacKenzie Art Gallery, where she has worked as a curator since September 2007.
7: Professional Native Indian Artists Inc. features work from the “Indian Group of Seven,” the first incorporated First Nations artist organization in the country. These artists met in the 1970s and demanded to be recognized as professional contemporary artists in Canada. Up to that point, their works were treated as handicrafts, excluding them from mainstream galleries.
LaVallee has worked toward this exhibition for six years. It’s not an original idea, she says: Other colleagues have wanted to honour these seven artists, but couldn’t secure funding for a show.
“I’m pretty persistent,” she says, laughing. “And I have a lot of support, and things have been changing slowly since these artists (started) breaking down these doors early on.”
LaVallee speaks softly, but her passion for her work is loud and clear. As an associate curator, her artistic and teaching bents unite. Her focus tends to aboriginal artists because their stories have largely yet to be told. And, as a First Nations woman, their fight is her fight.
“I truly believe I would not be in the position I am today if they didn’t do everything that they did,” she says.
“It’s really only been a handful of people who’ve been able to break into these institutions and it’s literally been a fight since the ’70s for these positions. It’s kind of odd when I think of it — that there’s still only a few of us in full-time curatorial positions across the country and that I’m one of them, because I’m just me.”
The MacKenzie has a long history of employing curators of aboriginal ancestry — Bob Boyer, Lee-Ann Martin and Patricia Deadman preceded LaVallee.
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SOURCE: 'The Regina Leader-Post'
Curator is making aboriginal art history
>>> REFERENCE POST:
- 7: Professional Native Indian Artists Inc.@ MacKenzie Art Gallery.