On Thursday January 19th, Scott House at Traill College hosted students from Professor Jeremy Miloy’s fourth year Canadian Images course. Each student was tasked with curating a showcase of Canadian history through different art pieces of historical significance, or of their own design. Many displays included historic art First Nations artists, while others focused on the influence of artists such as the Group of Seven, and pieces that were inspired by the cold war and world wars.
Both students and faculty dodge and weave around each other in the packed room in Scott House, listening intently as each student curator explains the reasoning behind the pieces they selected, and how it all ties together. Arthur has the pleasure of listening to some students engaging in very provocative conversations surrounding certain controversial pieces, while the curator dispells common misconceptions about their collections.
One of these students, Ben, displays the widely distributed piece Voice of Fire and summarizes a brief yet compelling history of the work’s origin through displays at Expo ’67 and its influence on the American space race of the time. Other pieces such as O Canada in Kisses by Joyce Weiland point to the power of protest art in Canada. When asked the theme of his display, Ben eloquently explains that these sorts of pieces speak mostly towards cultural capitalism, and how class dynamics and the actions of the “ultra rich” largely dictate how Canadians identify “good art” and how we recognize Canadianism.
Karli, an Indigenous woman and student curator at the event, explores the theme of the identity of Indigenous women in Canada through various art forms. Karli’s display features extremely powerful photos such as a crowd of somber-looking parents sending their children off to residential schools by train, to more modern depictions of Indigenous women where there are very clear inaccuracies and blatant racism. For this display, Karli says she had the opportunity to collaborate with her grandmother, a survivor of the residential school system, by weaving a blanket, and also borrowing some very detailed woodwork sculptures.
Next, Arthur speaks to Dawn, an Indigenous woman as well, whose display features a brilliantly put-together art piece that shows the landmass of North America on the first level, with a variety of overlapping levels that include documents such as federal treaties, the Royal Proclamation, and a famous quote from Stephen Harper in 2011 stating that Canada has “no history of colonialism”. Dawn suggests that her piece is meant to tell the story of a multi-dimensional North America.
While most students have a broader Canada in mind with their pieces, there is also a display by a student named Julie who shares an in-depth look at the Peterborough region’s own mark on history. The petroglyphs, and the controversial methods of preserving these ancient symbols, are a big slice of history right in our own backyard. Julie explains how upon discovery, the petroglyphs were barely visible and it was decided that they would be filled in with charcoal so that they would be more visible. Julie also dives into the controversy that surrounded the construction of the building surrounding many of the petroglyphs in Peterborough so that they would be safe from erosion. Next she outlines how, when analyzed, there are many recurring and prominent figures found among the petroglyphs such as the turtle, the female figure, and the symbol of Kitchie Manitou, or Great Spirit. Julie submits that the petroglyphs are somewhat of a shrine to the female, as the female at this time was praised as the giver of life and seen as undoubtedly equal to men during the era of pre-contact.
While there were about fifteen displays, Arthur managed to get the inside explanation of about eight of them among the crowd. The displays opened the audience’s eyes about pieces of art that previously seemed one-dimensional, and gave us a deeper understanding of the statements that they made towards a variety of different causes among Canadians. Arthur applauds each student curator for their hard and thoughtful work on each of their displays, and thanks them for expanding the mind of one satisfied reporter.