Sakahan: International indigenous art lights a fire in Ottawa

Susan Hallett Created: February 20, 2013 Last Updated: March 13, 2013
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"Handcuffs" by Inuit artist Jamasee Padluq Pitseolak, stone and caribou antler. (National Gallery of Canada)

"Handcuffs" by Inuit artist Jamasee Padluq Pitseolak, stone and caribou antler. (National Gallery of Canada)

OTTAWA — Sakahan, an international indigenous art exhibition coming soon to the National Gallery of Canada, offers an insight into the complex concerns of indigenous peoples, not just in Canada, but around the world.

Sakahan means “to light a fire” in the language of the Algonquin peoples.

Opening May 17, the exhibit will present contemporary works by indigenous artists from countries as diverse as Japan, New Zealand, the United States, Finland, and Russia, as well as from Canadians from coast to coast.

At the press preview of the exhibition, Christine Lalonde, the NGC’s associate curator of indigenous art, said “striking visual and conceptual connections emerged” as the curators looked at the artwork side by side for the first time, and that several “threads interweave the artworks even as the artists investigate recurring ideas, offering individual responses in a great diversity of media.”

Audain curator of indigenous art Greg Hill said that over 75 artists, more than 150 artworks “and a committed group of partner galleries and organizations that is unprecedented will start igniting a fire for indigenous art that is centred at the National Gallery of Canada.”

His hope is that it will spread. “Indigenous peoples are everywhere,” he said.

“The artists included in this inaugural exhibition create an incredible range of paintings, sculpture, photography, installations, performance and video artworks that represents a selection of some of the most exciting and original art being created today.”

NGC director and CEO Marc Meyer said the exhibition is the largest survey of recent indigenous art organized by a national institution. He also noted that the National Gallery is built on land belonging to the Algonquin.

An exhibition of this stature calls for financial support, and Meyer thanked RBC Foundation for supporting the exhibition and CN for sponsoring it.

There are many partner organizations as well, galleries and institutions that will be presenting installations and exhibitions at the same time in the Ottawa region and abroad.

The exhibition runs from May 17-Sept. 2.

Susan Hallett is an award-winning writer and editor who has written for The Beaver, The Globe & Mail, Wine Tidings and Doctor’s Review among many others. Email:

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