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"Unsettling" Canada 150 at the Doris McCarthy Gallery

Bojana Videkanic is the curator of Unsettling, a new exhibition on campus presenting an alternate view of Canada’s sesquicentennial.

A new exhibition on campus has an alternate view of Canada’s sesquicentennial — that of those left out of the country’s flawed utopia. Unsettling, an exhibition addressing the tension between Scarborough’s Indigenous past and its present urban sprawl, is at the Doris McCarthy Gallery from June 22 to July 22 and then again from Sept. 5 to Oct. 21.

The exhibition’s curator, Bojana Videkanic, lived in Scarborough for many years and chose the city as a topic for the exhibit after completing a fine arts research project on its progression into modernity. “One of my interests was to bring contemporary art to Scarborough, instead of taking art out and showcasing it downtown,” says Videkanic.

Videkanic created Unsettling with the compositions of six artists: Basil AlZeri, Lori Blondeau, Duorama (Paul Couillard and Ed Johnson), Terrance Houle and Lisa Myers. She chose each of these Canadian artists based on their work taking on the country’s common misinterpretations of its people and their lives.

Blondeau is a Cree/Saulteaux/Metis artist. Her work is generally centred in exposing fallacies of Indigenous women in Western culture. In her series Pakwâci Wâpisk, which translates to “Wild Rocks,” Blondeau indigenizes the colonial remnants on display at the Guild Inn. She saw the building remains and was immediately struck with thoughts on colonization and the narrative of her people through that time.

“When I went to the Guild I was feeling so displaced, it freaked me out.” This is addressed in her photo series—she is draped in a red cloth and is standing monumentally as a powerful Indigenous woman atop stones that symbolize colonization. “I want the audience to see that no matter what they do to us, we’re still here,” says Blondeau.

Videkanic chose works from Duorama for their interests in relationships, gay culture and its representations and ideas of space and how space and identity intersect.

Duorama consists of two performance-based artists who live and work out of Toronto and have shown their work nationally and internationally. Their contributions to Unsettling merge the history of Scarborough’s development with ideas around queer culture, urban development and sprawl and violence of urban and peri-urban spaces that are often forgotten. One of their video pieces shows them kissing at a train station in a small town; “queering the image” of the colonial train unsettles common heteronormative ideas of movement and change, Johnson explains. “To insert ourselves into that classic image of a kiss at a train station and to put a gay spin on it seemed to make sense for the exhibition,” says Couillard.

Another video piece shows Couillard and Johnson spinning each other in Saskatoon, the place of the “Starlight Tours”– a decades-long practice in which local police would drive Indigenous far outside of Saskatoon in the winter and leave them with nothing. Couillard and Johnson were moved by the particular case of Neil Stonechild, a 17-year-old Indigenous boy who went missing in temperatures of -28C. Stonechild’s body was found without a jacket and only one shoe in the very field that Duorama is filmed spinning, no charges were placed on the two officers involved.

“When we’re looking at Canada 150, this is the kind of history that tends to get swept under the rug,” says Couillard. Their spinning represents a marker of what happened in this place and acts as a way to experience the space in which Stonechild was found.

Duorama uses performance art to insert issues that are often overlooked into a space in which they have to be seen. For the Unsettling exhibit, this takes the form of gay culture, Indigenous injustice and colonial settlement. “More people becoming part of this discussion helps create the world we really want to see,” says Johnson. 

Videkanic uses these works and others to put together an exhibit that forces audiences to rethink the current celebrations and praise of Canada’s sesquicentennial. “We’re celebrating Canada’s 150th year, but some of our treaties are just as old, and yet we’re still fighting for those rights,” says Blondeau.

Unsettling is about challenging perspectives and changing narratives. “To me all of these artists speak to unsettling in different ways, they all address the politics around what we perceive as valuable and what is not,” says Videkanic.

 “To say something is settled is to say it’s dealt with, but to unsettle something is to open it up to possibility,” says Couillard.

© University of Toronto Scarborough