Art, Responsibility and Stereotypes

14 Oct

It’s no secret that stereotypes of Aboriginal peoples exist, as distressing or damaging as they can be, and that these ideas can manifest themselves in many different forms. The best take I have seen on stereotypes related to Inuit is the short film Sloth, by Inuit filmmaker Alethea Arnaquq-Baril. It’s only two minutes long, but pokes fun at both historical and modern popular views of Inuit:

The point of this post isn’t to get into why stereotypes form, but to point out that they are damaging and pervasive. This has become extremely clear in recent press coverage of acclaimed Inuit artist, Annie Pootoogook.

Annie Pootoogook

Annie Pootoogook in 2009 via Nunatsiaq News

We, like many of you, have been reading stories about Annie for a number of years. Her art has been internationally exhibited; she was the winner of the prestigious Sobey Art Award in 2006; and had broken many other barriers for contemporary Inuit artists. But recently, she has been the subject of a different kind of press attention, one not focused on her art but on her personal life. I won’t link to the series of articles in question, but Annie has fallen on hard times and the response to her personal circumstances has been varied, but often is heavily steeped in stereotypical views of Aboriginal peoples and artists.

For example, numerous comparisons have been made between Annie and Ahnisnabae artist Norval Morrisseau (whose son Christian’s work we are exhibiting currently in our Aboriginal Voices Gallery). Presumably, this is because they were both “troubled”, but I find  it noteworthy that no other, non-Aboriginal artist’s name is invoked. Surely there have been “troubled” artists (and people, for that matter) of many different backgrounds.

Like many museums, we have exhibited Annie’s work before  though at present we do not have any on display. We still feel that Annie is an important voice in contemporary art and that her work needs to be considered on its artistic merits. We also take very seriously our role in displaying art sensitively and in promoting accurate information about the artists whose work we represent.

We have, however, been admittedly reticent to discuss the recent news coverage of her life because it was not directly related to her artwork and, frankly, struck our staff as problematically represented. However, some of our visitors have wanted to discuss this with us and with each other and so we felt that we should open up this space for conversation:

Do you think stereotypes of artists or Aboriginal peoples influence the way we see and speak about an artist’s work? Who do you think bears responsibility for breaking down these views? Do you think we could do more to directly confront these issues?

– Posted by: Alysa Procida, MIA’s Director of Education, Operations and Outreach

Note: Please be mindful of our commenting policy, which we strictly enforce.

Advertisements
%d bloggers like this: