9 May 2018




Late last month saw the launch of this year's Scotiabank CONTACT Photography Festival. No doubt, you've heard the buzz and perhaps seen some of the work on display (like former Musings columnist and MUSSA prez Aurora Cacioppo's exhibition project with the Broadbent Sisters). The festival is hard to miss, with 200+ exhibitions and events in and around the city.

Its official launch took place at Ryerson Image Centre (RIC), where three contemporary Indigenous artists are featured: Shelley Niro, Nadia Myre, and Scott Benesiinaabandan.

Niro is the obvious center of attention. You may be familiar with her 2003 work, The Shirt, purchased by the AGO in 2016 and prominently displayed in the museum's second-floor Canadian collection, until its move for CONTACT.

This year, the artist has been honoured with the Scotiabank Photography Award, and her show at RIC (curated by Gaëlle Morel) is a retrospective of her long and diverse career.

Famous for her photographs of female family members and self portraits likened to the work of Cindy Sherman, Niro's work challenges preconceived notions of Indigenous culture and identity.

Shelley Niro, Chiquita, Bunny, Stella, 1995. Photo courtesy of Kesang Nanglu.

Shelley Niro, Portrait of The Artist, Sitting With A Killer, Surrounded By French Curves (detail), 2018.
Photo courtesy of Kesang Nanglu.
While Niro has become a widely renowned artist in Canada, the celebration of her work with a survey of her wide-ranging practice, and recognition from the largest photography festival in the country feels like a triumph, and fulfills CONTACT's mandate to promote critical discourse of relevant issues of our time.

Nadia Myre's project, Acts That Fade Away, is a multi-channel video installation (8 screens in all) of looped footage that shows Myre creating various handicrafts. Following instructions from historic Canadian women's magazines, Myre attempts to create Indigenous-inspired objects, reclaiming traditional practices from their history of appropriation and colonization.

Nadia Myre, Acts That Fade Away (detail), 2018. Photo courtesy of Kesang Nanglu.
As seen in the image above, there is some unfortunate glare present while viewing the work - a consequence of its placement in the Salah J. Bachir New Media Wall at the entrance of RIC, which is directly across from a wall of glass windows. While the effect of the large assembled screens is visually impressive, the location of the project is less than ideal, and feels like a particular shame given the generous presentation of Niro's oeuvre inside.

Stepping just outside of the RIC, there are two public installations by Scott Benesiinaabandan. On the sidewalk and street below the statue of Egerton Ryerson (founder of the university, as well as a key figure responsible for the design of the residential school system in Canada) is a digital composite image of photographs taken by the artist of the statue site, and of the fountain adjacent to RIC where his second work is found.

The boulders at Ryerson's "Lake Devo" are repurposed as supports for Benesiinaabandan's patterns, which lay unevenly over the surface of the rocks.

Along with photos of the sites, the digital patterns are composed of images of each of the "three flags that represent the traditional caretakers of the territory where these structures now stand: The Mississaugas of the New Credit, Mohawk Warrior/Unity, and the Two Row wampum" (from accompanying statement).

Scott Benesiinaabandan, newlandia: debaabaminaagwad, 2018. Photos courtesy of Kesang Nanglu.
While the exhibitions are visually and conceptually distinct, each of the artists featured works with correlating themes of place, colonialism, and re-appropriation. Their selection feels relevant and responsive to the current socio-political environment of local and international art scenes, creating a space for dialogue as well as engagement with genuinely exciting art.

The three exhibitions are on display April 27th - August 5th 2018.

Upcoming related programming:
May 9th - Artist talk with Shelley Niro
May 30th - Guest lecture with curator Ryan Rice
June 13th - Exhibition tour with Shelley Niro and Gaëlle Morel

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