Posts Tagged ‘Royal Ontario Museum’

Two Canadian First Nations women, Jane Ash Poitras and Rebecca Belmore,  have their art on display at the moment.  Both women are concerned about the effects of history on their culture and heritage.  Both mix politics into their art.   How do you rise out of oppression while preserving your heritage?  What are the issues surrounding acculturation and do you deal with them?   But as you can see, they approach their art in very different ways.

At the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) are four paintings by Jane Ash Poitras (b. Fort Chipeywan Alberta 1951).   Poitras is Cree.  She was orphaned at the age of 6 and raised by a Catholic German woman in Edmonton.  Before turning to art, she earned a BSc in microbiology.

below: ‘Buffalo Seed’, mixed media, 2004.  Old black and white photos are used in this collage along with sunflower petals and fabulous colours of oil paint.

colourful collage and painting by Jane Ash Poitras. Uses old black and white photos

below: “Potato Peeling 101 to Ethnobotany 101”,  Placed side by side, these two large works serve to contrast traditional indigenous knowledge of medicinal plants with the teachings imposed on indigenous youth by the residential school system.

2 large assemblages, collages, by Jane Ash Poitras, called Potato Peeling 101 to Ethnobotany 101, on display at the Royal Ontario Museum

below: There is a lot of detail in the two boards that get lost in a photo like the one above so here is a closer look at some of the photos in the collage above

collection of old black and white photos of First Nations kids in schools

text of a quote by Rebecca Belmore that says "for decades I have been working amongst my people, calling to the past, witnessing the present, standing forward, facing the monumental

 

“Facing the Monumental” is the title of the Rebecca Belmore exhibit at the Art Gallery of Ontario.  It covers three decades of her work and includes photographs, sculptures, and videos of her performance art.   Her art is more conceptual.

Belmore is an Anishinaabe woman from the Lac Seul First Nation.  She spent her childhood in northwestern Ontario with her maternal grandparents where she spoke Ojibwa.  For high school, she boarded with a white family in Thunder Bay.  Many First Nations communities are too small to support a high school so students are sent to live elsewhere while they complete their education.  It is a system with many problems.  It’s probably fair to say that the whole “system” is problematic.

below: ‘Sister’ 2001.  An ambiguous image – why does the woman have her arms stretched out?  What is happening here?

Sisters, art by Rebecca Belmore at the AGO from 2001

below: “Tower”, 2018.  A condo tower of shopping carts around a clay core – the carts symbolize the homeless.

art by Rebecca Belmore at the AGO

below: “Mixed Blessing”, 2011.  Two cultures.  Blending?  Fighting each other?  Hiding in embarrassment?

art by Rebecca Belmore at the AGO

below: And last, “Fringe” 2007.  Like two of the three artworks above, Belmore uses the body to address violence against First Nations people, especially women.   The image draws you in and repels you at the same time.   You don’t want it to be real but there is the possibility that it is.   If it makes you feel better, the diagonal scar is created using make-up and what looks like blood are strings of beads.

fringe, by Rebecca Belmore, a photo of a woman's back as she's lying down, scar and beads

Jane Ash Poitras is at the ROM until April 2020.

Rebecca Belmore is the AGO until 21 October 2018.

‘Straying Continents’ is a large hanging artwork that is on display at the ROM (Royal Ontario Museum).  The artist,  El Anatsui, constructed it out of aluminum and copper wire in 2010.

artwork hung on a wall, covers the wall, by El Anatsui, a Ghanese artist, made of different colours of liquor bottle caps, metal, close up

Thousands of recycled aluminum liquor bottle caps of different colours were cut and shaped (twisted or flattened) and sewn together with copper wire.  In some places the caps are flat and tightly packed while in other places they are twisted into rope-like pieces and loosely woven into the design.

below: The grey in the bottom part of the picture is the wall showing through. The lighting also creates shadows within the artwork.

artwork hung on a wall, covers the wall, by El Anatsui, a Ghanese artist, made of different colours of liquor bottle caps, metal, close up

Viewed as a whole, it is a fascinating piece. It does look like two continents separated by an ocean.  At the same time, innumerable interesting compositions can also be found by looking at it in sections.

artwork hung on a wall, covers the wall, by El Anatsui, a Ghanese artist, made of different colours of liquor bottle caps, metal, close up

recycled liquor bottle cap artwork

below: The piece doesn’t hang straight which creates folds, shadows, and more interest.

artwork hung on a wall, covers the wall, by El Anatsui, a Ghanese artist, made of different colours of liquor bottle caps, metal, close up

below: It also provides material to play with.

abstract of circles and partial circles made from bottle cap artwork

 

I went on a whim.   No one has ever called me ‘fashionable’ when it comes to clothing!

I went not knowing what to expect and was very pleasantly surprised at what I encountered.   The majority of the exhibit consists of dresses designed by Christian Dior from 1947 to 1957.

people looking at the Christian Dior exhibit at the ROM, Royal Ontario Museum

Christian Dior was born in a seaside town in northern France in 1905.  He began his career in fashion by selling fashion sketches in the early 1930’s after a failed attempt to run an art gallery.  This led to a job as a design assistant with Paris couturier Robert Piguet.   His career took off after WW2 when he started his own business, House of Dior (Maison Dior), in 1947.

a red knee-length dress in the foreground, a black one in the background, also a black and white striped dress, part of a museum display of Christian Dior clothing

below: This simple but classy two piece dress with black cummerbund is from Dior’s 1948 autumn-winter collection.   It is made with black velvet with iridescent bead work.  The bottom part is a mid-calf length skirt with the same beading.   Actually, the words simple and classy describe most of the dresses here.

two headless mannequins with black dresses, upper parts only are shown, part of a ROyal Ontario museum exhibit dress in foreground has iridescent beads sewn on it

below:  Embroidery with beads and stacked sequins in intricate designs.

close up shot of the back of dress that is heavily ebroidered and beaded in blue and purple floral motifs

below: The fabulous colours of fabric samples – this is only a small part of the display of fabrics with “a silk warp and a dupion weft”.  Warp and weft are weaving terms – warp refers to the threads that run lengthwise down the fabric while weft refers to the crosswise threads.   Dupion is similar to silk but it is thicker and more uneven.

silk fabric samples of many different colour

below: This dress is made from the silk fabric described above.

pale blue grey silk Christian Dior dress in the background, a red and a black dress are in the background, ROM exhibit,

beige suit, jacket and skirt. Jacket has tailored waist and 6 very large mother of pearl buttons,

Christian Dior’s success as a designer and a businessman continued until 1957 when he died while on vacation in Italy.  Yves Saint Laurent spent a few years as the Artistic Director immediately after Dior’s death although he was only 21.  There have been countless designers and many changes since then but the the company still exists as part of LVMH.   I was surprised to learn that the full name of the company is LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton SE.  I also hadn’t realized that many of the luxury brands that we recognize the names of are actually controlled/owned by 3 companies: LVMH, Kering, and Richemont.  If you have a few minutes, take a cruise through wikipedia.

part of an orange dress with cloth covered orange buttons on both the front and side

below: There was a small display of jewelry, including this necklace by Maison Gripoix.   It is a string of lily of the valley flowers made from green and white handmade glass paste.   Glass paste, or pâte de verre, is made by mixing finely ground glass, binding agents, and colour.  The resulting ‘paste; is molded and then kiln fired.  Apparently the lily of the valley was Christian Dior’s “lucky flower”.

Dior necklace with green glass leaves and white flowers made of beads, gold as well, large and short

The exhibit is presented by Holt Renfrew and you can find it on the 4th floor of the ROM…. until 18 March 2018. In the meantime, you can find more information on the ROM website.

 

#ROMDIOR

You’ve probably never heard the word asafo before.  You probably have no idea what it means.

Until last week I didn’t know the word existed either.

I went to the Royal Ontario Museum to see the Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibit.  There were 100 excellent pictures of insects, animals, marine life, the sort of thing you’d expect.  There was no photography allowed in that exhibit so I have no photos of the images on display.  You’ll have to take my word for it that I was there.

I can appreciate the skill and patience that it takes to capture rabbits in the snow or a school of fish in a certain light underwater but those kind of pictures don’t excite me.   That’s not to diminish the work of the photographers, it was all very high caliber both technically and visually.    What I think I’m trying to say is that I left the exhibit wanting more, something more from my visit to the ROM.

Luckily I didn’t have to look far.  In the next room was Art, Honour, and Ridicule: Asafo Flags from Southern Ghana.

museum exhibit of asafo flags from Ghana, colourful flags of militia groups in yellows, reds and black. Many are hanging in display cases.

Colour, lots of colour.  And a subject that I knew nothing about, asafo flags.  I wasn’t even sure what part of Africa Ghana is in (It’s on the south coast of Western Africa between Togo and the Ivory Coast as it turns out.).

The flags are hand made with an assortment of different motifs.  The British Jack in the upper left corner is a very common feature.  That’s a clue.  Yes, Ghana was a British colony.   Reading the history of Ghana is like reading the colonial history of large parts of Africa.  The Portuguese built a fortress at Elmina in 1482.    Interest in the region was piqued by the presence of gold, hence the name Gold Coast.   By the early 17th century the first African state,  Akwamu, controlled an extensive part of the coast.  They were displaced by the Ashanti who were very involved in the slave trade, especially in trading slaves for weapons.   When European countries outlawed trading in slaves in the early 1800’s,  Ashanti power suffers.   Some tussles ensue, a few battles, some back and forth, and by 1902 what was Ashanti becomes is a British colony.    It remained a colony until 1957.

close up of a flag, hand made, British Jack in the top left corner, a man walks in front of a church in the center, a black bear in the top right.

I’m not going to pretend to know or understand African history.  I’m only trying to give some context to the flags.    First, jump back to my mention of Elmina and the Portuguese. When the Portuguese arrived in this area in the 15th century, it was the Fante (or Fanti) people that they encountered.  Both the Fante and the Ashanti belong to the Akan people.  The Fante prevented them from venturing inland and leased properties for Portuguese trading missions. But when the Portuguese objected to Fante rules and regulations the Fante expelled them.  Soon after, the Dutch arrived.  The Fante served as middlemen in the commerce between the interior and Dutch traders on the coast.

Around 1724 the Dutch either established or made important a number of militia groups of local Fante.  These are the Asafo companies.  Historically, Asafo companies were in charge of the safety and protection of the local community.   At the height of the slave trade they protected individuals and communities.   They exerted power, exercise political influence and maintain codes of conduct within Fante communities. Each company has a flag and that flag has many roles.   They represent proverbs and depict narratives of pride and wisdom.  They accompany oral history and provide a means to preserve customs and traditions.

below:

  1. top flag, by Kweku Kakanu, Saltpond Workshop. “Only a brave man goes under a large tree” because only large animals go under large trees. Made sometime between 1950 and 1957.
  2. bottom flag, artist unknown, Kromantse Workshop. “Only tie a bull to a large tree”. Both the animal and the tree are acknowledged to be strong and mighty.  Made around 1980.  It has a Ghanese flag in the top left corner.

 

two flags displayed on a black background, with three femail mannequins dressed in traditional Ghanese costume.

below:

  1. top flag, by Kweku Kakanu, Saltpond Workshop. A crocodile dominates and controls a pond of fish. Made around 1940.  The prey can not escape.
  2. bottom flag, by Kwesi Budu, Saltpond Workshop. The fish cann’t escape the net of the fishermen just like enemies will not be able to escape when confronted by the company.  Made around 1950.

two flags displayed on a black background, with two male mannequins dressed in military Ghanese costume.

Fante asafo flags from Ghana, two on display in a museum, chickens and roosters,

Fante asafo flags from Ghana, two on display in a museum, griffons

two mannequins in military uniforms as part of a museum exhibit at ROM

 

 

Patricia Harris Gallery of Textiles and Costumes,
ROM, 4th floor,
until March 2017.

 

 

 

The word Chihuly in the title refers to Dale Chihuly, an American artist who has been working in glass since the mid 1960’s.   At the moment there is a special exhibit at the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) of some of the sculptural work produced by him and his team.

detail of a glass sculpture showing ripples and waves of colour, ornages, greys and yellows

I’ve now wandered through this exhibit three times.   The first time, I found it a bit overwhelming and I wasn’t sure how to photograph it.  The second time I went I just looked.  Yesterday I went back with my camera and tried again.  I’m reasonably happy with the photos but I know that I have only captured a small part of the art.  Perhaps it is enough to enable you to imagine more of it, or to refresh your memory if you have already seen the exhibit.

below:   Admirers looking at “Persian Ceiling”, 2012 .  Large cushions were provided for those who wanted to lie down to get a view of the ceiling in its entirety.  Of course, looking at the sections up close was also fascinating.  All the different shapes and colours overlap and produce new colours and textures.

people lying on the floor looking a ceiling that is made of different coloured glass pieces, back lit, also some people standing and pointing at different pieces

below:  Section of the “Persian Ceiling” installation.

bits of coloured glass, circular shapes, ridges, back lit,

The round slight scalloped glass shapes that look a bit like flowers are called Persians.  At least that’s the name that Chihuly has given them as described in this quote that appears on the wall just outside the room.    “I just liked the name Persians.  It conjured up sort of Near-Eastern, Byzantine, Far East, Venice, all the trades, smells, sense… I don’t know, it was an exotic name to me, so I just called them Persians.”

below: A ray swims amongst the waves of colour.

bits of coloured glass, circular shapes, ridges, back lit,

below: “Red Reeds”.  I thought of candles when I first saw this piece, red candles in a birch bark candle holder.  Then the  young girl standing beside me announced that it was a campfire and I changed my mind.  I think she’s right.  Marshmallows anyone?

The red tubes are hollow glass.  Metal rods have been inserted into the birch logs and the glass tubes sit over these rods.  You can see the darker sections at the bottom of the tubes where the metal rods are.

red glass tubes inserted into large birch logs, looks like a campfire with tall flames

below: “Blue and Purple Boat, 2006”.  Back in 1995 Chihuly floated some glass pieces on a river in Finland.   Local teenagers collected the pieces in their wooden boats and this provided the inspiration for a number of installations featuring glass in boats.  This is one of two on display at the ROM.  It is on a reflective surface, like a calm river.

a wooden boat on a black reflective surface. The boat is filled with blue and magenta pieces of sculpted glass

below: “Sapphire Neon Tumbleweeds” constructed from factory made neon tubes that have been heated and bent into organic shapes.  The lighting is magenta in real life but blue in my photos.

two kids standing in front of an exhibit with blue neon lights twisted into tumbleweed shapes, backs to the camera

below: The next few photos are of a large and elaborate installation called “Laguna Torcello”,  named after a lagoon island in Venice.  It is a garden of fantasy in glass.  Parts seem to be aquatic, growing under water.

aquarium like structures, water plants, and large shells, made of glass, on a black glass reflective surface

As an aside, I suspect that the logistics and cost of transporting and installing these pieces is not minor.  Like the red tubes above, this garden is made of hollow glass pieces that are arranged on, and supported by, rods.  The whole thing sits on a flat, dark, and reflective surface which adds another dimension to the artwork.

green glass and silver metallic horn shaped pieces on a black reflective surface, part of a large glass art installation by Chihuly at the ROM

different shaped glass sculptures that look like stylized underqater scene, aquatic plants

curly pieces of glass in different shade of amber, look a bit like curly seaweed growing under water

The exhibit continues until the end of 2016.

Dale Chihuly website

There are seven or eight large photographs, portraits of older women, on University Avenue.   They were actually part of the CONTACT Photography Festival and they have been on display outside the Royal Ontario Museum since early May.  The photos are the ‘The Last Tattooed Women of Kalinga”, portraits by Jake Verzosa.

large black and white photo of an older woman with many tattoos, black and white, displayed outside, another portrait in the background

In the villages of the Cordillera mountains of northern Philippines the women have been tattooed with lace-like patterns for centuries.  The tattoos are symbols of stature, beauty, wealth and fortitude and are traditionally applied during rituals.  The tradition is dying out as standards of beauty change and as the old ways are replaced with more modern methods.

Each village once had their own tattooist, or mambabatok, but today only one remains.  Born in 1918, Whang-od (or Fhang-od), is the last person to practice the centuries old technique called batok.  The ink is made of charcoal and water and it is applied by tapping the skin with a thorn.

two older women with their shoulders tattooed, wearing necklaces and a patterned skirt, seated. Black and white

Once the men were also tattooed.  The Kalinga tattoo has evolved from their ancient tradition as warriors and headhunters.  Heads were taken from fights and battles as a trophy; each time a man brought home a head he would receive another tattoo as a reward.  Tattoos were a mark of social status.

Indigenous groups throughout the Philippines practiced tattooing for centuries.   When the Spanish arrived in the 1500’s they called the people ‘pintados’ or ‘painted people’ as it was not uncommon for people to have tattoos covering their whole body.  While some tribes used tattoos to mark status, other tribes believed that tattoos possessed special spiritual or magical powers which gave the individuals strength and protection.  The use of tattoos as protective symbols is an idea that occurs in many cultures.

large black and white photo of an older woman with many tattoos, black and white, displayed outside, another portrait in the background

In conjunction with the Kalinga portraits, the ROM is featuring an exhibit that examines the beliefs surrounding tattoos, and the role that they and other forms of body art play in different cultures over the years.  “Tattoos: Ritual, Identity, Obsession, Art” is on view until September 5th.  It is a global tour of tattoos past and present.

One of the cultures that is featured is the Chinese.  For centuries, tattoos were forbidden, or at least taboo, in China.  To be tattooed was to be discriminated against as they were associated with prisoners or vagrants.  Recently that has begun to change.

below: Three large modern picture tattoos by Taiwanese tattoo artist Gao Bin featuring traditional Chinese images, Buddha, lion and dragon.  Tattoos as a cultural expression.  In some countries such as Sri Lanka and Thailand images of Buddha are considered sacred objects of worship.  While it’s not illegal to have such a tattoo, wearing one could get you into trouble.

Three pictures of the backsides of men, each with a large picture tattoo from neck to thigh. Chinese art pictures as tattoos

below:  Here is another example of why people get the tattoos that they do.  This is a picture of one photograph in a series by Isabel Munoz.  Munoz spent three weeks inside several prisons in El Salvador and photographed mara gangs.  Gang members wear offensive tattoos to assert their antisocial behaviour and express their loyalty to the gangs.  Tattoos as statement; tattoos as a mark of membership and belonging.  Tribal.

photo of a picture in a museum of a man's face that has been tattooed with gang symbols and words,

below: A silicone arm with a tattoo by Montreal artist Yann Black on display.  This is one of 13 commissioned tattoos on silicone body parts – arms, legs and torsos both male and female that are part of the exhibit.   Tattoos as artwork.  Individuality.

a silicone arm has been tattooed with a design that looks something like a cross between Frank Lloyd Wright and Mondrian. It is in a glass showcase in a museum.

The oldest known tattoos were found on Otzi the Iceman, a natural mummy who was found in the Otzal alps near the Austria – Italy border in 1991.  His tattoos were 61 lines ranging in length between 7 and 40 mm.  The lines were arranged in groups.  Most of his tattoos were on his legs where there were 12 groups of lines.  Otzi is estimated to have died between 3239 BC and 3105 BC.

Tattooed mummies have also been found in other places – Greenland, Alaska, Siberia, Mongolia, western China, Egypt, Sudan, the Philippines, and the Andes in South America.  We will probably never know what significance the tattoos had.  Theories abound of course and they often involve reasons like protection, spiritual, status, tribal, or just for decoration.  Reasons that probably ring true today too.  The methods have changed and some of the images have changed, but human nature remains just that, human nature.

 

 

Seen in the ‘Genizot: Repositories of Memory’ exhibit

 by Bonnie Eisenstein,

at the Royal Ontario Museum until 8 February 2015

blog_the_walk

“Concentrate all your strength, and compel yourself to do the loftiest deed, to endure the most difficult trial, and to survive the most arduous struggle.”

from The Walk by Robert Walser, translated from the German, Der Spaziergang written in 1917.