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Singing Softly When No One’s Around

November 6th, 2016

Carol Malabre

Carol Malabre with Lawren Harris, Baffin Island Mountains c.1931 oil on canvas. The Thomson Collection © Art Gallery of Ontario

They are some of the first people you see when you visit the Gallery. They spend their days surrounded by centuries of art, in rooms that can fill with swarms of visitors and empty at a moment’s notice. They offer insight, directions, warnings, and anecdotes — with warmth, wit and knowledge. But just how much do you know about our Protection Services team?

If you’re curious about our guards and their perspectives on our art collection, then take in “Singing Softly When No One’s Around,” the newest project created by the AGO Youth Council project in collaboration with artist Abbas Akhavan. In 2015, the Youth Council interviewed eight security guards about their lives, their roles at the AGO, and their favourite works of art. The project’s title is taken from one of their interviews.

Their role as people who ensure the security of the artworks they spend most of their lives with — but they are not supposed to have an opinion about — creates a confusing and uncomfortable circumstance. Often I have wondered which works they spend their time looking at, which works they dislike, what opinions they gleam from the whispers of the audience and the speeches by curators and tour guides, and what do they think about art?

—Abbas Akhavan

Each guard has highlighted a favourite work which you can visit in the Gallery (demarcated with a “Singing Softly” label), and listen to their accompanying audio interview. Pick up a map in the main lobby to plan your tour or discover the works on your own below.

Join the conversation online: #AGOYouth

Meet the Guards


Carol Malabre

Lawren Harris, Baffin Island Mountains c.1931 oil on canvas. The Thomson Collection © Art Gallery of Ontario

“Henry Moore can be empty sometimes, so when I know there’s no one around, I go around and sing softly.”

Listen to the Interview here


Pragashan Chetty

Cornelius Krieghoff, The Trapper’s Return, 1861 oil on canvas. The Thomson Collection © Art Gallery of Ontario

“I think that a lot of the guests pretty much think that we are one-dimensional types of people, that we are just the Robocop type of guy. But I think when they talk to us, they’re pleasantly surprised that we do know a lot about art.”

Listen to the Interview here


Joy Matthias

Attributed to Master of the Kress Epiphany, The Expulsion of the Money-Changers, around 1480–1500, oil on wood. Gift of Joey and Toby Tanenbaum, 1988.

“I would look at an art piece and would stand here and study it and think to myself how the artist created it. I would also think about God and my life. I would think about how lucky I am to be in such a beautiful environment.”

Listen to the Interview here


Andrew Abdool

John William Waterhouse, “I Am Half Sick of Shadows” said the Lady of Shallot, 1915, oil on canvas. Gift of Mrs. Philip B. Jackson, 1971.

“My life has been a lot of backstage…if I were a chess piece, I would be a pawn. So, society does not have a lot of expectations for me or placed a lot of value unfortunately for a person that works in my job…”

Listen to the Interview here



Nick Skibinsky

Kent Monkman, The Academy, 2008, acrylic on canvas. Purchased with the assistance of the David Yuile and Mary Elizabeth Hodgson Fund, 2008

“Art was something in my life I never paid attention to. You sometimes would read in the newspaper, ‘oh this piece of art cost this much.’ You are like, ‘Oh my God. Why would someone pay that much?’ But when you learn the history behind the piece, and everything, it gives you that appreciation.”

Listen to the Interview here


Joe Ruvolo

George Frederic Watts, The Sower of Systems, 1902, oil on canvas. Gift of Joey and Toby Tanenbaum, 1971; donated by the Ontario Heritage Foundation, 1988.

“I’m a painter. I painted an awesome painting. And of course it’s the one that scares everyone in the house.”

Listen to the Interview here


Otto Reyes

Sigismund Christian Hubert Goetze, The Ever Open Door, 1906, oil on canvas. Gift of Mrs. S. Goetze, 1925.

“The amount of people that you actually meet if you just keep an open mind and willingness to talk to people, it’s amazing. You can learn something from every single person that you meet.”

Listen to the Interview here


Donovan Bennett

David Milne, The Line Fence, January 31, 1920, oil on canvas mounted on hardboard. The Thomson Collection © Art Gallery of Ontario.

“I could go to dinner and I’d be able to hold my own conversation. I’m not gonna be the smartest guy in the dinner table but I know a couple of tidbits about art now.”

Listen to the Interview here


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