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Canada: a work in progress

January 31st, 2017

This summer we’re marking Canada’s 150th birthday with an ambitious contemporary exhibition that explores three urgent questions through the eyes of some of the country’s best emerging and established artists: where has Canada come from, what it is now, and where is it going?

Opening on June 29, 2017 and taking over the entire fourth floor of the AGO’s Contemporary Tower, Every. Now. Then: Reframing Nationhood is a dynamic exhibition that aims to address the mistakes of the past, rewrite and reclaim history, and move into the future with new insight. The multimedia installation features 33 new and recent projects by artists from across Canada, including Gu Xiong and Yu Gu, Robert Houle, Meryl McMaster, Seth, Esmaa Mohamoud, Ed Pien and Shuvinai Ashoona, among many others.

Bringing together both the familiar and the unexpected with strong Indigenous voices running throughout, Every. Now. Then: Reframing Nationhood is curated by Andrew Hunter, the AGO’s Fredrik S. Eaton Curator, Canadian Art, with a team of invited local artists, activists and educators including Anique Jordan and Quill Christie.

According to Andrew Hunter, “at the heart of this exhibition is our fundamental belief that Canada remains a dynamic work in progress. At this moment, many contemporary artists are reflecting on and challenging what Canada was, is and will be. Through a variety of visual media they are drawing attention to issues of absence, erasure and memory, and asking creatively, ‘How do we move forward as a country?’ Bringing these works together at this exact moment creates a meaningful opportunity for AGO visitors to hear the stories that haven’t been told, and to consider what it means to be Canadian in 2017.”

Esmaa Mohamoud. Heavy/Heavy (Hoop Dreams), 2016 (detail). Cast concrete and Plexiglas. Collection of the artist.

Meryl McMaster. Time’s Gravity, 2015. Archival pigment print on watercolour paper. Collection of the artist, courtesy of Katzman Contemporary.

Gu Xiong. Map of Canada, 2014. Tomatoes and steel pins (variable). Collection of the artist.

Acknowledging that Canada’s sesquicentennial represents a narrow slice of time in the larger historical record, the artworks featured engage with a broad range of cultural, traditional, spiritual and land-based stories. The exhibition, which will run to January 2018, invites visitors to hear working artists such as Camille Turner, Camal Pirbhai and Barry Ace explain what this moment means for them. We asked what that means:

Camille Turner: I feel it’s our job as artists to really make things visible, to make the context we’re living in visible. And to ask questions. As a Black Canadian, it’s really important to tell the stories of Black Canada that haven’t been part of the national narrative. This history goes back over 400 years.

Camal Pirbhai: As artists, we have a responsibility to be the voices of our time. We feel lied to as Canadians. Through our works, we’re exploring a history that wasn’t taught to us. Using contemporary photographs, we uncover these wrongs of the past. The lies of history still exist, but on different levels. It’s imperative to learn about the past and relate our findings to today – that’s the difference between museums and living art; we’re not only talking about history, we’re talking about now.

Barry Ace: What can art do in this moment? In these challenging times of rapidly shifting political, social and cultural change, the artist’s voice is imperative, for it is through the voice of artist that we can see where we have come from; where we are now; and where we are going.

Every. Now. Then: Reframing Nationhood is the anchor of the AGO’s Canada 150 program, which will also feature a range of smaller exhibitions, installations, digital initiatives and special programs.  More details will be announced, and as an AGOinsider you can find out first.

AGO Members will see Every. Now. Then: Reframing Nationhood for free. Click here to learn more about becoming a Member.

This exhibition is generously supported by Ontario150.

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