Lack of recognition for indigenous roles in the American Revolutionary War and individual expressions of anxiety surrounding the Cold War are brought to light in the upcoming exhibit at McIntosh Gallery.
Battlefields of my Ancestors by Shelly Niro and Cold Front by artists Tom Benner, John Boyle, Jack Chambers, Greg Curnoe, Jamelie Hassan and Tony Urquhart will be opening at 7 p.m. on Jan. 12.
Director and chief curator, James Patten, explains that the exhibitions will kick off the gallery’s celebration of Canada’s 150th anniversary, in which McIntosh has decided to look at the history of Canadian wars.
“We wanted to start with [Niro] because indigenous culture isn’t first and foremost in everyone’s mind,” Patten explains. “We wanted to get that out first and trace that history of battles and First Nations engagement and struggles and conflict.”
Battlefields of my Ancestors is a photo gallery mounted to the wall of McIntosh like a real-life Instagram feed. The images portray war sites throughout the Cayuga villages — now known as Six Nations — destroyed during the American Revolutionary War, as well as the Canadian memorial at Vimy Ridge.
“It’s fascinating because a lot of these sites are either unmarked or unknown for the early First Nations sites of conflict,” says Patten. “It’s quite interesting to see what’s on those sites — everything from parking lots to [areas] without any markers or identification at all.”
Patten notes that the exhibition aims to touch on the “notion of war and how it relates to identity and the formation of culture.” He is particularly moved by Niro’s image of Vimy Ridge as he was not aware of the strong First Nations presence at Vimy.
First Nations had some of the highest volunteer enlistment rates of any community in Canada at the battle of Vimy Ridge, yet they did not receive the same recognition as others who served. Niro’s photo exhibition targets attention toward such inequality.
Among Battlefields of my Ancestors is a three-part photograph from the McIntosh permanent collection and bought from Shelly entitled, “Parallel Lives of Warrior Women.”
The addition to the show depicts a stereograph of a woman honoured as a hero in the first World War and a parallel narrative from First Nations indigenous history about a woman who was a great war hero.
“This idea of women acknowledged in battle is a feminist critique of honours and battles,” Patten says. Niro was interested in the narratives of women who were acknowledged for their service, as their historical lack of recognition for heroism parallels that of the indigenous men who served in the war.
He adds that Battlefields of my Ancestors and Cold Front bookend each other nicely in their regard for current issues and the discussion of war.
Each of the six artists exhibiting in Cold Front lived in London, Ontario during the Cold War. Their collaboration is meant to create a visual depiction of the anxieties during this period of political tension.
One of six guest curators Kelsey Perreault hopes the show will characterize the featured artists as not only London regionalist painters, but global thinkers as well.
“The exhibition has come at kind of an interesting time with what’s going on with the American election,” Perreault says. “I think some of the discussions that are going to come out of certain artists like Greg Curnoe’s work [will be] about Canada’s relationship with the United States.”
She adds that her research specifically looks at Holocaust studies and how genocide and human rights issues are represented in the museum. So working on the upcoming show has been an exciting experience that she is looking forward to sharing.
Cold Front and Battlefields of my Ancestors will be on display from Jan. 12 – March 4 at the McIntosh Gallery, open Monday to Friday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturday, noon to 4 p.m.