McMichael Canadian Art Collection plays an important role in reconciliation, chief curator says

The McMichael is working to recognize the contributions of Indigenous artists

Paul Wells and Sarah Milroy discuss art at the Munk School of Global Affairs & Public Policy on Jan. 24 for The Paul Wells Show. (Cindy Chim/Toronto Observer) 

Canada is using Indigenous art as part of its personal brand, according to the chief curator of the McMichael Canadian Art Collection.

“Branding Canada with Indigenous art goes on today without offering real deeper attempts of reconciliation and respect for self-governance Indigenous people,” Sarah Milroy told The Paul Wells Show.

“I think that we [Canadians] have a notion of ourselves as being inclusive, tolerant, profoundly democratic. And I think that we cherish the image we have of ourselves.”

Wells interviewed Milroy for his podcast at the Munk School of Global Affairs & Public Policy on Jan. 24.

During their chat, Milroy shared her insights on Indigenous art and how McMichael Canadian Art Collection positioned itself as the only Canadian art museum in the country.  

Indigenous artists lost their names

She used West Coast Art Native and Modern, an exhibition at the National Gallery in 1927, as an example to illustrate how the Canadian government stole Indigenous artworks and presented them along with white settler artists, in branding the country’s identity. Meanwhile, the residential school network was expanding and having a profound impact on Indigenous children, their families, and their communities.

Milroy said many Indigenous artists lost their names because of colonialism, which triggers an enormous amount of work that they needed to do but is also an area they should pursue more. She went through the historical documents and visited The Canadian Museum of History to dig deep about their story to improve the exhibition.

She said a good reason for people to pay attention is so that the artist can “tell us about the world we live in.”

“You need to understand the world through the eyes of this unique individual and gifted individual,” Milroy said. “I feel like the work we do with McMichael is trying to frame artists in that bigger picture.

From an entertainment place to a gathering venue

According to Milroy, the museum is changing from a place for entertainment to a gathering venue, serving different communities and allowing people to share their stories in a safe, positive environment.

“We need to work on Indigenous issues deeply. We need to make it a better experience for new arrivals in Canada,” she said. “All these things we need to do.

Milroy is a former art journalist, who worked as a lead art critic and editor in the Globe and Mail and Canadian Art magazine. In 2018, she joined McMichael Canadian Art Collection as a chief curator.

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Posted: Mar 10 2023 7:58 pm
Filed under: Arts & Life