Installation view showing Roger Crait, "The Hunters," 2016, at far right
Installation view showing Roger Crait, "The Hunters," 2016, oil on canvas, triptych, 43.5” x 18.5” / 43.6” x 43.5” / 43.5” x 18.5” at far right.
If anyone doubts that galleries are innervated and alive spaces, the recent 20th anniversary show at Urban Shaman should provide more than enough proof. The gallery – crammed with works by KC Adams, Rebecca Belmore, Scott Benesiinaabandan, Roger Crait, Lita Fontaine, Kevin McKenzie, Peter Morin, Nadia Myre, Louis Ogemah, Melissa Wastasecoot and Linus Woods – positively thrums with energies both quiet and intense.
Installation view of Rebecca Belmoe and Nadia Myre
Installation view of Rebecca Belmore, "Mixed Blessing," 2011, sweater fleece jacket, synthetic hair, beads, Hydrocal, 27” x 56” x 72” showing Nadia Myre, "Meditations on Red #4," 2013, digital print mounted under Plexiglas, 48” x 48” (edition of seven) in background.
Belmore has three works on display, but Mixed Blessing is the show-stealer. The 2011 piece is a kneeling figure in a black hoodie, its face obscured by a downfall of hair. On its back, a cruciform-shaped text reads “Fuckin Indian, Fuckin Artist.” On opening night, the sculpture nearly bowled me over. It seemed to embody eerie amounts of personhood, and the vulnerable figure kneeling before me provoked fresh awareness of my own colonial privilege. At the same time, the figure absolutely refused sympathy. So much resplendent uncut hair created a veritable swell of integrity and strength. Later, I did wonder if I was too swayed by the life-size scale and the cultural potency of hoods and crosses. But on a return visit, the figure’s force field was no less diminished. Belmore, one of Canada’s most important artists, is a master of real and symbolic gestures. Mixed Blessing brings to life a difficult paradox: the powerful/powerless body.
From across the room, Montreal-based Myre’s circular Meditations on Red resemble planets, blood samples, Petri dishes. On closer inspection, it’s still possible to describe them as universes, though of the magnificently beaded variety. Myre made enlarged digital prints of the original beaded objects, creating a strange distance. The prints are slick and smooth when compared with the real. On the other hand, they afford a more intimate view. The beads aren’t patterned – tiny, random gaps occur between trios of scarlet and crimson. Myre’s organic stitching and digital process complicate the narratives around beadwork with striking economy.
Peter Morin, "Studies for a Glacier #1," 2015
Peter Morin, "Studies for a Glacier #3," 2015
Thaw, Morin’s glittering sugar-encrusted portraits are lovely to look at but terrible to consider. Sugar, for so many, is not a sweet story. Compelling too, are Benesiinaabandan’s heavily symbolic black-and-white photos.
All in all, the anniversary show is a balancing act between strong statements and refined poetics, even if it’s a little too crowded (Belmore and Myre could hold the gallery on their own). Crait’s vivid, rambunctious painting jostles for space with a whisper-quiet Belmore piece, Homeland. Fontaine’s installation, The Woman’s Drum, occupies much physical and emotional space. The curators, though, have obviously and admirably attempted to gather in everyone. For the last 20 years, says their statement, Urban Shaman has brought the arts and both native and non-native communities together. In this show, again, it’s done with grace, vision and artistic aplomb.