Art:21 blog on Kerry James Marshall’s First Solo Exhibition in Canada

October 11, 2010 · Print This Article

Kerry James Marshall. Souvenir I, 1997. Acrylic and glitter on unstretched canvas. Collection Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, Bernice and Kenneth Newberger Fund. Photo: © Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago.

Art:21′s new “Calling from Canada” blogger Raji Sohal has written a great piece on the curatorial decisions made by the Vancouver Art Gallery‘s director Kathleen S. Bartels and artist Jeff Wall in organizing Kerry James Marshall‘s first solo exhibition in Canada, which runs from May 8, 2010 to January 3, 2011. Sohal’s piece is well-worth perusing; I’ve included a brief excerpt below to entice you to read the entire post. (Kerry James Marshall was interviewed in Episode 61 of Bad at Sports’ podcast and Jeff Wall in Episode 96).

“So how does this exhibition get framed within Vancouver? As a transplanted Vancouverite, Marshall’s paintings got me thinking about representations of blackness but also about my own identity as an Indo-Canadian person in Canada. More than fifty percent of Vancouver’s population speaks English as a second language. British Columbia is now considered Canada’s most ethnically diverse province, and the city is home to a relatively large population of Indo-Canadians and one of the largest diasporas of Punjabis in particular. So where is our experience represented in art? The most prominent representations are found instead in and by dominant media culture. Moreover, historical incidents involving new immigrant groups have transpired without the kind of acknowledgment or monumentalizing of atrocities (i.e. erecting monuments or holding services) that we have seen occur in the U.S. or in Western Europe. In British Columbia, this includes Japanese internment camps, Chinese railway worker exploitation, and the Komagata Maru incident, which prompted the Canadian government to enact exclusion laws preventing Indians from immigrating.

So while seeing Marshall’s large-scale figurative paintings at VAG provide an access point for thinking about black representation in America, framed in Vancouver, the exhibition also provokes questions about representation on home soil too. The adversity faced by the city’s ethnic groups is unique, of course, and not to be homogenized under one large minority umbrella. However, seeing this show in multicultural Vancouver is curious in light of Marshall’s comments in past interviews about how when he was a kid, he didn’t see blacks in pictoral space. Recently, Marshall told Vancouver newspaper The Georgia Straight that part of his own project has been to “figure out how to make paintings that could get to be part of the story.” (Read the full post at art21:blog).

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