Indigenous artists challenge gallery visitors

Soundings art exhibit reclaims identity and space at the Agnes 

Raven Chacon and Cristobal Martinez’s “A song often played on the radio.” 
Photo: 

An exhibit at the Agnes Etherington Art Centre features contemporary Indigenous artists weaving their voices and identities into the fabric of Queen’s. 

Soundings: An Exhibition in Five Parts, on display until April 7,  leaves visitors with a disoriented feeling, echoing the unsettled state Canadian Indigenous communities occupy as a consequence of settler colonialism.

The exhibit is affiliated with The Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts, providing visitors with a rich display of Indigenous culture through various modes of art, including music, theatre, dance, and visual arts.

Soundings, curated by Candice Hopkins and Dylan Robinson, features fourteen Indigenous artists who’ve devised clever ways to communicate an Indigenous voice and presence on campus.

The Queen’s acknowledgement of territory reads, “Queen’s University is situated on traditional Anishinaabe and Haudenosaunee Territory,” but this exhibit diverts from this clear cut assertion of Indigenous land, and presents identity as subtle, interactive, and innovative.

There are multiple layers to many of the installations. Some include Indigenous artifacts at later dates during the exhibit’s run, some have live music performances attached to them, and others require participation from museum visitors. 

Soundings is also a listening exhibit. It incorporates a variety of different sounds, ranging from the sound of glass beads on metal to classical composer George Rochberg’s “Caprice Variations for solo violin,” to drum portraits, to film audio. 

These experiences, combined with visual displays, demand the attention of visitors, asking them to consider how orchestration and music resist colonization.

The exhibit extends beyond the Agnes, with installations found across campus. 

An example of this is the vinyl transfer on Mac-Corry Hall entitled “Never Stuck” by Ogimaa Mikana, an artist collective focused on affirming Anishinaabe identity in the public sphere. 

This installation has an accompanying booklet in the Agnes, both written in the language of the Anishinaabe people. The work focuses on resistance of the Anishinaabe before, during and after colonization. There’s no translation of the written words. The expectation is that visitors will experience Anishinaabe culture through the language. 

Soundings also embeds itself into Queen’s culture in other ways. Tania Willard’s “Surrounded/Surrounding” is composed of four parts. 

The physical piece of the installation isthe display of a score and fire ring surrounded by stumps of wood. The setting is inviting and fosters conversation, bringing people together. 

The fire ring and wooden stools will be donated to Four Directions Indigenous Student Centre once the exhibit has concluded, leaving a lasting impression on the Queen’s community.

The exhibit is by no means easy to navigate. It can be overwhelming to try and decipher the multiple levels of meaning embedded within the installations. The reception  staff is helpful at answering questions, but the exhibit is also meant to be dizzying.

The artists of the exhibit have effectively communicated the uncertain feeling Indigenous communities experience in Canada as a result of the effects of colonization.

The exhibit plays a recording of Toronto based violinist and composer Pamela Attariwala performing Peter Morin’s “NDN Love Songs,” singing, “[a] decolonized body has the ability to remake love/loving/sex/sexuality”—a particularly relevant sentiment. 

The exhibit is unsettling in the way it speaks to visitors, but it shakes the observer into a new way of thinking about what it means to decolonize and reclaim space. 

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