Dana Claxton, Baby Girlz Gotta Mustang (detail), 2008. National Gallery of Canada.

Steeling the Gaze: Portraits by Aboriginal Artists

Steeling the Gaze: Portraits by Aboriginal Artists
January 18—March 10

Opening Reception: Friday, January 25 at 8 p.m.
Talk/Tour: Friday, January 25 at 7 p.m., with co-curators Andrea Kunard and Steven Loft

Steeling the Gaze draws on the collection of the National Gallery of Canada (NGC). The exhibition features profoundly symbolic works by some of Canada’s celebrated Indigenous artists. The exhibition showcases images of Aboriginal peoples created by 12 Aboriginal artists: KC Adams, Carl Beam, Dana Claxton, Thirza Cuthand, Rosalie Favell, Kent Monkman, David Neel, Shelley Niro, Arthur Renwick, Greg Staats, Jeff Thomas, and Bear Witness. Together, the 51 works send a powerful message on the evolution of Aboriginal self-determination in Canada.

This deeply reflective exhibition showcases the National Gallery’s significant collection of portraits by Indigenous artists, as well as other works from private collections. Steeling the Gaze includes portrait photographs as well as video installations, in an exploration of how contemporary Aboriginal artists have used the portrait as a means of self-expression, in spite of its long, problematic history for their peoples. “The portrait is a European convention that exerts control over the subject,” explains co-curator Andrea Kunard. “In the past, Aboriginal people were often objectified for commercial purposes. They were represented as a dying race doomed by the inexorable march of ‘civilization.’ Contrary to this portrayal, they have neither vanished nor died out; they survived.”

For many Aboriginal peoples, taking control of the camera and placing oneself or others within the photographic frame is a courageous and political act. In defiance of the history described by Kunard, contemporary Aboriginal artists now reconstruct the narrative of race; they self-determine the image that manifests the reality of Aboriginal culture. The exhibition’s other co-curator, Stephen Loft, who was NGC’s first Curator-in-Residence, Indigenous Art, states, “By reconstructing the narrative of race, [the artists in this exhibition] have captured the wide plurality of Aboriginal histories, cultures, and contemporary realities and have created their own visual identities.” This kind of artmaking is not about identity politics, it is the assertion of cultural sovereignty.

Steeling the Gaze is co-curated by Andrea Kunard (National Gallery of Canada) and Steven Loft (National Visiting Trudeau Fellow at Ryerson University).

Lecture by curator Steven Loft: “Culture Shock”
Lecture by curator Andrea Kunard: “In the Line of Sight”
Audio tour with artist Rosalie Favell
Audio tour with artist Arthur Renwick
Audio tour with artist Jeff Thomas