“Houle’s work is meant to function directly within art institutions. Called “Aboriginal Title”, it subverts and critiques the very institutions in which it hangs which is a common practice of Houle’s as both an artist and curator.” Art Gallery of Hamilton
Robert Houle’s provocative work, Aboriginal Title (1989), is featured in the current hanging of works from the Art Gallery of Hamiliton’s (AGH) permanent collection. The intensely red painting is set in dialogue with the works of two other artists “who are inspired by place” – Emily Carr’s Yan Q.C.I. (1912) and Tom Thompson’s The Birch Grove, Autumn (1915-1916). Both Carr and Thompson’s iconic paintings have become synonymous with Canadian identity offering a visual shorthand for defining a nation. In Thompson’s case, vast empty landscapes, a Terra Nullius; for Carr, a record of the ‘disappearing’ material culture of the Indigenous people of the West Coast. By centering Houle’s work between these two paintings, the AGH overturns the ideas that Thompson and Carr’s work present.
In the AGH’s virtual tour (see video below) they propose of the audience to ask the questions:
- Who’s Canada do we see in these paintings?
- And is this an accurate portrayal?
The narrator offers that “for Houle the loss of ancestral land has been a cause of a grave identity crisis for generations of First Nations peoples” pointing out that, “the legacy of European Colonization has rendered First Nations peoples alienated in their own territories.” The 4 specific dates that Houle draws attention to with the strategically bleak minimalism of the work are 1763, 1867, 1876 and 1982 – The Royal Proclamation, The Canadian Confederation, The Indian Act and The Constitution Act. These critical dates are “marking years when legislation was passed that served as legal precedence for First Nations rights and freedoms regarding land.”
“Permanent collections are complex, amazing, and very weighted. The ways they are formed, presented, and interpreted all speak of choices—choices made one hundred years ago and yesterday. These choices express who we are, and crucially, who we want to be.” Art Gallery of Hamilton
The exhibition also includes works by Robert Davidson and Norval Morrisseau. Take the AGH’s Virtual Tour embedded below to find out more about Aboriginal Title and Houle’s vital role in questioning the assumed and accepted narratives of Canadian Art. Follow the Art Gallery of Hamilton conversation at #AGHCollection.