restricted access Chapter 1. Imaginary Spaces of Conciliation and Reconciliation: Art, Curation, and Healing
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21 CHAPTER 1 Imaginary Spaces of Conciliation and Reconciliation: Art, Curation, and Healing David Garneau The oil painting Aboriginal Curatorial Collective Meeting (2011) is an attempt to picture my memory of an event without violating the privacy of those who were there. The canvas is composed like a comicbook page. However, the panels do not show people or scenes and do not follow a conventional narrative sequence. They are arranged circularly, without a clear beginning or end, and are populated only by empty speech bubbles and the coloured spaces between them. The bubbles have varying flesh tones and are meant to stand in for specific Indigenous persons. Knowing the conventions of comics and meetings, I hope viewers will read argument, agreement, frostiness, overlapping dialogue, shared and evolving ideas, and innumerable other things into these shapes and thereby get a sense of the scene. I also imagine that many will feel frustrated that their comprehension is restricted. The painting is a mnemonic device. It reminds me of the relationships , exchanges, and affect of a moment. Most importantly, it allows me to show what happened without giving anything away. I wanted to memorialize the fact that this event occurred, but I did not want to betray its full content. What I will now1 explain is that the picture describes a crisis. During an Aboriginal Curatorial Collective symposium at the National Gallery in Ottawa in 2011, a non-Indigenous academic championed the art of an Indian residential school survivor , Mohawk artist R.G. Miller-Lahiaaks. Some in the audience were uncomfortable from the start. Was it because the presenter was white and the artist absent? Perhaps, but it could also be that the crowd was sensitive to his lack of sensitivity. The talk peaked with a comparison of the effects of Indian residential schools to flesh-eating disease, complete with photographs. It was offensive, particularly to the survivors present. Oblivious and confused, the man was ushered from the building. The event gathered Indigenous and non-Indigenous folks, but following this incident a group of Indigenous people removed 22 David Garneau Figure 1.1: Aboriginal Curatorial Collective Meeting, David Garneau (oil on canvas, 5' x 4', 2012). themselves to a separate room to comfort a senior artist and survivor and to figure out what had happened and what should happen next. Later, the main room was cleansed with smudge and song and the symposium resumed. There is no need to detail this incident further. It is only one example that hints at the challenges of conciliation in the curatorial and academic arena. Chapter 1: Imaginary Spaces of Conciliation and Reconciliation 23 One lesson: while decolonization and Indigenization is collective work, it sometimes requires occasions of separation—moments where Indigenous people take space and time to work things out among themselves, and parallel moments when allies ought to do the same. A second lesson: the professor in question, Neal Keating, is not a curator but an anthropologist who, perhaps out of a sense of justice, felt the need to play the part of a curator. Presumably, he determined that his need and interest, his compassion, were enough to qualify him to stride into this complex discourse. That he played a curator before an international gathering of Indigenous curators was audacious and symptomatic of larger concerns about white, colonial, professional privilege. The colonial attitude is characterized not only by scopophilia, a drive to look, but also by an urge to penetrate, to traverse, to know, to translate, to own and exploit. The attitude assumes that everything should be accessible to those with the means and will to access them; everything is ultimately comprehensible, a potential commodity, resource, or salvage. The academic branch of the enterprise collects and analyzes the experiences and things of others; it transforms story into text and objects-in-relation into artifacts to be catalogued and stored or displayed. The primary sites of Indigenous resistance, then, are not the rare open battles between the colonized and the dominant but the everyday active refusals of complete engagement with agents of assimilation. This includes speaking with one’s own in one’s own way, refusing translation and full explanations, creating trade goods that imitate core culture without violating it, and refusing to be a Native informant. This chapter examines Indigenous refusal, particularly why many Indian residential school survivors do not participate in “Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Journey,” and how this non-compliance signals the need for forms of representation outside of the current Reconciliation...


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