Art helps us seek out Indigenous experiences as part of Truth and Reconciliation

Imagine being told about an exhibition at our local Art Gallery of Algoma (AGA) by your aunt in Montreal via social media. (And to be clear, please read aunt rhyming with taunt, because I’m talking, and that’s how I pronounce it. I choose taunt and not flaunt because ‘tante’ in French means aunt). In honour of the National Day of Truth and Reconciliation, and to mark Ontario Culture Days, the AGA held Gathering in Honour, Maawnjiding wii-Gchi-inenjigeng Sept. 30 and Oct. 1. My aunt Lyndell’s comment was: “You are so lucky to live near this exhibit at Algoma.” And so, we went.

Four of us attended this celebration of the Woodland School of Art. As per the website: “Artworks in this exhibition include those by local artists, the late John Laford and his daughter Lucia, most of which have never been shown before. Also included are works by Norval Morrisseau, Jackson Beardy and more from the AGA’s permanent collection.”

While in the gallery, I told my companions about the controversy around Norval Morrisseau’s works, having been directed to watch the 2019 documentary, There Are No Fakes. The documentary follows the Barenaked Ladies’s Kevin Hearn, who bought a Morrisseau from a gallery and later learned it was a forgery. The documentary gets wild from there, involving drugs, violence, and forgeries.

We also visited Gallery 2, which houses Celebrate Nature with selections from the AGA’s permanent collection. As its website says: “This selection features paintings, drawings and prints by A.Y. Jackson, Franklin Carmichael, Arthur Lismer, A.J. Casson, J.E.H. MacDonald, Frederik Varley, Lemoine Fitzgerald, York Wilson, George Paginton, Ron Bolt, Alan Collier, David Bierk, Will Ogilvie, Kazuo Nakamura, Valerie Palmer, Lydia Hargreaves, Emily Carr, Carl Schaefer, and Caven Atkins.”

Gallery 3, the Vault on Display presents a rotating selection from the AGA permanent collection, with large works leaning against stacks of other paintings, for lack of room to hang them.

While in Gallery 1, I mentioned that John Laford had finished the mural at the Algoma Canyon Tour Train Station shortly before his death in November 2021, and that became our next destination, after leaving the AGA. There, we walked across the stunning floor mural by artist Tom Sinclair, to approach the eagle dominated wall mural by Laford.

Indigenous Tourism Ontario had a whole marketplace with food and craft vendors and a series of local concerts on Saturday outside the train station. This followed their support of the Grand Opening of the Shingwauk Kinoomaage Gamig building, and their Truth and Reconciliation activities, and the nighttime Drone Show about Truth and Reconciliation illuminated with 200 drones.

Gelato at the Mill Market, and a walk to Whitefish Island to feed the chipmunks, chickadees, and ducks, rounded out our day.

For those who missed the two-day free exhibit, the Indigenous art will be on display in Gallery 1 through the end of this month. Laford’s daughter, Lucia, who has five stunning works on display in Gallery 1, is also offering several Indigenous drawing and painting workshops in October in partnership with VIBE Arts.

I feel that it is important to seek out Indigenous experiences as part of Truth and Reconciliation, and it’s easy to do with the stunning imagery in the Woodland School of Art.

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