Exploring Personhood and the Permanent Collection

The latest exhibitions at the Yukon Arts Centre are possibly best described as “revealing”.

About one half of the Public Art Gallery is dedicated to visual interpretations of blackness in art, while the other reveals items from the permanent collection that have been stowed away.

Upon walking through the double glass doors, one is immediately greeted by the exhibit, Treasures from the Vault.

“I started here four years ago and almost half of this work I’ve seen digitally in our collection catalogue, but I’ve never actually seen it. Some of them live in massive crates,” gallery director Mary Bradshaw explains.

About a dozen of the nearly 70 works in the collection have been plucked from storage for the exhibit, which Bradshaw says really came out of the fact that there was a spot in the gallery schedule.

“We wanted to break out pieces that hadn’t been seen, particularly some of the bigger, important works. Works that people haven’t had a chance to see and share or get up and close with,” she says.

“It’s certainly something we weren’t really considering before, but now having these pieces up, I really feel sad to think that they’ll be in the vault for another eight years, which some of them have been. Paintings want to be seen.”

In the gallery a delicate Gwich’in Dress and Moccasins, made by Jacqueline Olson out of paper and porcupine quills, is displayed adjacent to a generously sized acrylic painting, Cluny II: An Anniversary of a Yukon Summer Solstice, created by Landon Mackenzie.

Other artists include Michael Belmore, Lillias Farley, Janet Moore and Jim Logan.

Bradshaw says she has a soft spot for Logan’s painting, A Rethinking on the Western Front, which plays on the iconic image of Michelangelo’s The Creation of Adam in the Sistine Chapel.

“It’s a little bit more accessible, I think, in that everybody knows that image and Jim uses a lot of humour in it, too,” she explains.

“Incorporating the evolution of man in there and where does he fit in? Is he a caveman because he’s an Indian? But yet using the Christian symbols.”

It is difficult to ignore the neighbouring exhibit within the gallery, titled Reading the Image: Poetics of a Black Diaspora – most specifically due to a series of large chalkboard walls etched with words.

The walls are an installation work, titled Room of Fears. Though conceptually created by Halifax-based artist Michael Fernandes, the walls were actually installed by the YAC, with gallery assistant Scott Price scrawling a couple hundred sentences.

The sentences are fears that Yukoners submitted into drop boxes at coffee shops and bookstores.

“What I love about it is that some of them are so universal. You know like ‘I’m afraid of losing my husband.’ But then there are some really specific ones, like ‘I’m afraid of the potholes on the highway between Stewart and Gravel Lake.’ And you know, that’s legit, I’m afraid of those,” Bradshaw says with a laugh.

Aside from Fernandes’ work, photographs by Scotland’s Maud Sulter are on display, along with a quirky installation of bread loafs on wheels by Trinidad’s Christopher Cozier and a projected piece by Toronto-based video artist Deanna Bowen.

In the curatorial statement about the exhibit, Ontario-based Andrea Fatona writes that the exhibit is not about sharing the same aesthetic, genre or medium. It is more about exploring the blackness in art, as well as personal and collective personhood.

“What’s nice about this exhibit is that so often thematic exhibitions kind of get, or can be, too themed. But these pieces aren’t necessarily about that. I think the curator left a lot of breathing room and just said ‘Here’s your work and let the work speak and we’ll take threads from there,'” Bradshaw says.

“Aesthetically there’s black and white and use of space. And a kind of somber quality, yet not sad by any means.”

Both YAC exhibitions are on display until Dec. 21 in the Public Art Gallery.

PHOTOS: RICK MASSIE [email protected]

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