What is Canadian Art?


April 22, 2010 :: Leslie Dawn
Moderated by Christina Cuthbertson

12- 1:30pm

Do we want others to think that landscapes by the Group of Seven are representing Canadian Art? Or is it Northwest coast totem poles by the native Gitxsan people? The Vancouver Olympic Committee certainly seemed to think the later and art by First Nation people truly represented Canadian identity, judging by the design of the opening ceremony at the 2010 Winter Olympic.

The speaker will suggest that such was not always the case. In fact, during the early Twentieth Century, the Canadian government actively rejected that native people’s culture represented Canada. Canada was European, if not just British. The policy of the Canadian government regarding native people was assimilation. “Indians must become Europeans” was the dictum. Cultures, languages, and religions of First Nation people were made targets of eradication. Native art was totally rejected. In fact, some artistic forms of art such as dance were made illegal.

However, Europeans found immense artistic value in Native art at a Paris exhibition in 1927 and Canada eventually rediscovered Native art, partly because it became a very lucrative business during the great depression of the 1930''s.

Speaker: Leslie Dawn

Leslie Dawn is Professor of Art History at the University of Lethbridge. He obtained his
PhD from the University of British Columbia and has for many years been active as a critic of contemporary art. Leslie’s historical research investigates problems in the construction of Canadian national identities, colonial landscapes, and the representations and arts of Native people in Western Canada.

Leslie has published many articles on the subject and his book “National Vision/National Blindness - Canadian Art and Identities” received the Raymond Klibansky Prize.


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