First Nation artists being highlighted at the Art Gallery of Ontario as important teaching tool


Bonnie Devine on Canada's first major survey of Anishinaabe artists

July 28, 2014


Guest host Piya Chattopadhyay speaks with artist Bonnie Devine about the first major survey of Anishinaabe artists to be featured at an art museum in Canada. Devine -- a member of the Serpent River First Nation -- is an acclaimed sculptor, video artist and educator who has created a special, site-specific work for the Art Gallery of Ontario. 

Devine also reflects on how art can help us re-conceptualize the relationship between humans and the natural world, as well as indigenous and settler cultures. 

"We have an ancient pictorial tradition, an artistic tradition that goes back and is flourishing actually. A lot of contemporary Anishinaabe artists are working today in multiple media, so it's about time that we began to see this as part of contemporary artistic discourse," she says.

The Anishinaabe people's territory, which spans from the Maritimes to Alberta, also has one of the largest language groups in North America. Manhattan, Mississauga, and Ottawa are just a few examples of the Anishinaabe language appearing in our modern maps. 

"There's a history to be taught here. There are curricular issues that go back to post-secondary and elementary school where Canadians as a whole [...] don't really know the history of the indigenous people here," Devine tells Piya. 


Underneath these lines and divisions

Devine's site-specific work for the AGO re-conceptualizes a pre-confederation map that was already hanging in the gallery to reflect how the Anishinaabe people see the land. 

"What I wanted to do was draw in the territorial boundaries that precede even that, and remind us that they're underneath all of these lines and divisions -- that really come from Europe -- there is an ancient story that still endures actually, that we can recognize, not just my people, but all Canadians." Devine explains. 

Devine sees art as having a responsibility to serve an educational purpose, to wake up its viewers to current issues in the world. 
"I think that art has always had a role in pointing a finger at social injustices, and I think that right now, our issues as a people and as a collective as Canadians, we are examining the history we've been presented with and searching it for truths and untruths," Devine says. 

"And I think that aboriginal art at this point, has a particular eloquence around examining those truths."