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Director’s Statement: Jimmie Durham

Gregory Burke

For over 50 years, Jimmie Durham’s work has questioned the construction of knowledge, meaning and history. His work explores what it is to be a citizen of the world in the 20th and 21st centuries—a task full of conflict, uncertainty, contradiction and possibility.

Organized by the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles, Jimmie Durham: At the Center of the World provides a comprehensive overview of the artist’s expansive practice. It is also an exhibition that has sparked critical debates about identity, representation and appropriation—themes Durham’s work frequently contends with. Questions surrounding Durham’s ancestry have long circulated. This retrospective propelled those questions to a wider audience, prompting many new and critical perspectives. As the exhibition has travelled, first to the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis and then to the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, the discussion has continued to evolve, being shaped by diverse voices and contexts.

Durham self-identifies as Cherokee, but has been clear that his own identity is not the subject of his work. He does not, and has not sought to, belong to any of the federally recognized and historical Cherokee tribes in the United States, which as sovereign nations determine their own citizenship. Self-determination and cultural authority are imperative for nations striving to regain control over their own narratives. Many artists and scholars have expressed concerns that Durham’s identity—at times overtly emphasized by museums, galleries and critics—has been tokenized in a field where Indigenous artists and voices are often marginalized and misrepresented. These are valid contentions, and pose important questions about institutional frameworks and responsibilities.

Part of Remai Modern’s mission is to bring the work of thought-provoking international artists to Saskatoon. Annual funding from the Frank & Ellen Remai Foundation allows us to bring in exhibitions from leading institutions around the world. Jimmie Durham’s retrospective was chosen in part because of his longstanding relevance to Canadian artists, curators and scholars. Beginning in the 1980s, Durham has been featured in a number of significant exhibitions, symposia and publications in Canada, many of which have explored Indigenous art histories and futures.

As the only Canadian venue presenting Jimmie Durham: At the Center of the World, Remai Modern offers an opportunity for our audiences to experience Durham’s ideas in-depth and in person. It is an occasion to explore Durham’s contributions to artistic discourse in Canada and the world, and how his work is being re-thought and recontextualized. We are excited to share the work of such a compelling, inventive and multifaceted artist. We also encourage our audience to take part in the conversation, adding a Saskatchewan and Canadian perspective to interpretations of Durham’s work.

Gregory Burke, Executive Director & CEO