“If we look at the world in the form of a circle, let us look at what is on the inside of the circle as experience, culture and knowledge. Let us look at this as the past. What is outside of the circle is yet to be experienced. But in order to expand the circle we must know what is inside the circle. It has been the art that has brought us back to our roots. I am proud to be one of those people chosen to put the puzzle back together and move on. The challenge is ours to keep expanding the circle.”
— Robert Davidson
Just off Canada’s North Pacific coast is a series of islands called Haida Gwaii, which have been home to the Haida people for more than 10,000 years. For generations, this Indigenous culture has produced some of the world’s most visually stunning and intellectually complex forms of art. On their lush island home off the Northwest Coast, Haida have fashioned a world of outstanding artistic expression, one that sustained them through near annihilation in the late 19th century. This exhibition shines a light on one strand of their rich heritage by presenting an outstanding selection of historic Haida artworks.
In the past, as today, Haida artists could be male or female. Their creative output was astonishing – carved and painted chests, lifelike masks, finely woven baskets, complex songs and dances, intricate tattoo designs, imposing totem poles. This exhibition presents over seventy works that explore themes fundamental to Haida life and culture including potlatch ceremonies, performance, the power of transformation, and ceremonial art.
Contemporary Haida artists are constantly exploring the ancient language of their art; it is the foundation on which new endeavours are built and the grammar with which future histories are written. In the organization of this exhibition, the McCord Museum worked with renowned Haida artist Robert Davidson to guide the selection of historic artworks and discuss their significance. As such, the entirety of historical objects in this exhibition is drawn from the collection of the McCord Museum, with Davidson’s insights woven into the exhibition commentary.
For the presentation of this exhibition in Hamilton, we are thrilled to include work by Davidson in conjunction with these historical objects. A selection of his painting and sculpture, many never before exhibited, has been selected with the artist in order to bring this artistic conversation to the present day and to highlight the work of this magnificent Canadian painter.
Header Image: Robert Davidson (Masset-Hydaburg b. 1946), Xyaalang (Dancing) (detail), 2013, acrylic on canvas, Courtesy of the artist and Douglas Reynolds Gallery. © Robert Davidson. Photo: Kenji Nagai
Organized and circulated in part by the McCord Museum, Montreal