This summer the AGH is honored to present an expanded display of the permanent #AGHCollection called Where We Lie: Between Sea and Sky. Get a closer look at this latest update to our Gallery Level 2 installation and take a deep dive into the featured Indigenous artist Norval Morrisseau (1931 – 2007) with Shivanya Ra, our Pierre Lassonde Curatorial Intern from Mount Allison University.
On June 21st, 2022, recognized by Canada as National Indigenous Peoples Day, Google dedicated this day to honor one of the pillars of contemporary Indigenous art, the late Anishinaabe (Ojibwe) artist Norval Morrisseau (Copper Thunderbird) (1931 – 2007). Morrisseau is recognized as the grandfather of contemporary Indigenous Art in Canada and throughout Turtle Island (North America). His artistic practice journeys into the Anishinaabe worldview; centering the cultural stories, teachings, and relationships of all creation. From this began his artistic legacy, and groundbreaking painting style – referred to as the Woodland School. Morrisseau is a featured artist on display in the permanent collection at the Art Gallery of Hamilton, where a wide variety and breathtaking assembly of Morrisseau’s artworks are open to the public.
From his work and dedication, Morrisseau inspired a continuing and evolving generation of emerging Indigenous artists, along with ongoing conversations and social activism of Indigenous Sovereignty, Reconciliation and the Human Rights of Indigenous people and communities. These issues are raised at the AGH as a work in progress; from ongoing workshops and talks that feature Indigenous artists, leaders, and people as a collaboration which hopes to grow community awareness and involvement, including through the augmentation of the AGH’s collection and presentation of Indigenous artists and artworks across disciplines.
Home to 116 works by Morrisseau, the AGH is among the largest collections found in a public art institution of Morrisseau’s work. As fortunate as the AGH is to feature such a vast number of impactful and unforgettable pieces of Morrisseau, they hold a greater and crucial purpose; the collection highlights the livelihoods, cultures, worldviews, and the realities of the Anishinaabe peoples of Canada and Turtle Island. The stunning pieces will continue to hold and demonstrate the significance of Morrisseau to the contemporary Indigenous and Canadian art world.
Where We Lie: Between Sea and Sky, is an expanded composition of Morrisseau’s work on public display on the second floor of the AGH. In this selection of his work, Morrisseau captures the colorful, bold, diverse, plethora of Mother Earth and the relationships of the realms in the Anishinaabe worldview. Through his work he visualizes and acknowledges the transformative and spiritual power of Mother Earth that bridges the connections between the environments and nature to people, communities, animals, and manidoog (spirits) together as one. From the deep, bountiful depictions of the water realm to the abundance of the beautiful symmetric balance of the Woodlands, and to the open, clear, endless, bright sky, these pieces illustrate the delicate yet strong bonds of reciprocity and how these environments and creatures rely on each other. The visualized bonds of nature and worldly connections in Morrisseau’s work inspires contemplations and thought-provoking mindsets of environmental sustainability and how all creations, including humans, are interconnected and have responsibilities to each other. It is from this display of his body and language of work that every creation, big or small, is interconnected and has a role and place in the substantial presence of the current and future state of the world – and will continue to for generations to come.
Morrisseau’s artwork undeniably intertwine Humans and all of creation. His work recognizes the responsibility of kinship between people, communities, animals, and land, which falls on everyone to foster and maintain in the shared mission of preserving environmental sustainability. This stability relies on bonds to the world, and envisioning how Indigenous and non-Indigenous people will move forward together.
As Canada begins to spotlight accountability for its role in genocide and its colonial roots; it is crucial to recognize the continued ingrained presence of these effects in the present-day, how it hinders the future for all Canadians, and how the responsibility lies on everyone in Canada and Turtle Island to be a part of the ongoing calls for action and change. As Morrisseau visually communicates, everyone is interconnected and has a role in reconciliation and breaking the barriers for both Indigenous and non-Indigenous people alike – who live and play on, and share the land between the sea and sky.
The Art Gallery of Hamilton operates on the traditional territories of the Erie, Neutral, Huron-Wendat, Haudenosaunee and Mississaugas. This land is covered by the Dish With One Spoon Wampum Belt Covenant, which was an agreement between the Haudenosaunee and Anishinaabek to share and care for the resources around the Great Lakes. We further acknowledge that this land is covered by the Between the Lakes Purchase, 1792, between the Crown and the Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation. It is important to acknowledge that words and symbolic gestures are not enough, we must move beyond words and truly commit ourselves to learning and understanding the critical importance of truth, reconciliation, and reparation. There cannot be reconciliation without truth. In line with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada: Calls to Action, the AGH will continue its commitment to the TRC’s recommendations for museums, libraries, archives and dismantling anti-Indigenous racism and discriminatory practices and policies against Indigenous Peoples.
Header Image: Installation view of Where We Lie: Between Sea and Sky an expanded composition of Norval Morrisseau’s work in The Collection, Art Gallery of Hamilton, 2022.