Canadian Biennial Evokes Conversation About Migration

The 2017 Canadian Biennial at the National Gallery of Canada opened October 19. The fourth annual exhibit includes recent acquisitions of Canadian and Indigenous contemporary art including painting, sculpture, photography, drawing, printmaking, video and large-scale mixed media installations.

With more than 50 artists and over 100 works, the diversity of the exhibition has really grown since the last Biennial. And for the first time, the 2017 showcase includes international artworks.

The goal of the Biennial is to dive into the contemporary art world to understand it at the current moment. To this end, international artists have been included to expand and provide a better, well-rounded viewing experience.  Senior curator Jonathan Shaughnessy hopes this year’s inclusion of international artists will particularly highlight works by women and artists of color. In doing so, the gallery and curators hope to spark dialogues in the Canadian community, bring out themes that connect and overlap differing topics, and to emphasize and challenge art history.

Another special component of the Biennial is a second portion entitled Turbulent Landings: The NGC 2017 Canadian Biennial at the Art Gallery of Alberta in Edmonton on view until January 7, 2018. The show is a special selection of works by contemporary Canadian and international artists that place issues of the land regarding colonialism, slavery and other migrations into focus through the National Gallery of Canada’s newly acquired works.

Some of the international artists in the Biennial include; John Akomfrah (British), Mark Bradford (American), Julie Mehretu (Ethiopian), and Chris Ofili (British).

American artist Nick Cave is drawing a lot of interest because of his leading work in the international art scene, according to Shaughnessy.

“He’s been making art for decades but he’s also director of the graduate fashion program at School of the Art Institute of Chicago and he’s a choreographer so he’s known in different circles. His place in the contemporary art world was a bit slower to emerge but there’s been a lot of attention in the past few years,” Shaughnessy said.

Cave’s mixed media piece Soundsuit, 2015, included in the show, makes a statement about marginalization as a black person in America. The idea of a Soundsuit acts as a suit of protective armor to cover himself up from racial prejudices and also acts as a joyous, vibrant celebration of finding his freedom.

The 2017 Canadian Biennial is on view through March 18, 2018, at the National Gallery of Canada. For more details, please click here. The 2017 Canadian Biennial is supported by RBC Foundation.

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