The Native Group of Seven show engages the past, present and future

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They were called the “Indian Group of Seven”, but were in fact named Professional Native Indian Artists Incorporated. Founded in 1973 in Winnipeg, PNIAI was a manifestation, advocacy, commercial aspiration, education and fierce talent – already redefining Canadian art, and all in one magnificent moment.

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Today, thanks to a magnificent group exhibition on display at the Art Gallery of Alberta through July 3, that moment is recognized and remembered.

PNIAI members included Daphne Odjig, Alex Janvier, Jackson Beardy, Norval Morrisseau, Carl Ray and Joseph Sanchez: a wide range of backgrounds and styles. The seven diverse visionaries formed the group at a time when Canada had liberated limited artistic autonomy at the Indian Pavilion of Canada at Expo 67. But on the whole, the nation was nothing short of racist in its own right. management, its ghettoization and its rejection of contemporary indigenous art.

Odjig, for example, was repeatedly told that his work was either “too Indian” or, because of its modernist influences, “not Indian enough” to fit the commercial stereotype. To date, these problems have not gone away.

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The 80 paintings and drawings from AGA in 7: Professional Native Indian Artists Inc. were curated by Michelle LaVallee of the MacKenzie Art Gallery in Regina. (The exhibition started in Regina and has been shown in a few galleries across the country.)

She calls the exhibit “retroactive,” explaining over the phone, “Sometimes with historical exhibits they can be described as retrospective, looking back at something. I call it retroactive because that’s what it is. the group fought for over 40 years – they fought for an exhibition like this in contemporary and mainstream art galleries. But also because all the works in the exhibition date from the decade when the band was active in the 1970s. It could have happened, and should have happened, so I draw people’s attention to oblivion.

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“I don’t know if it’s the people who are proud that the artists are recognized, or the energy that these works carry of the artists themselves, or the dynamic imagery and methods, but people seem to be really involved in the process. job. They leave the show happy. And it’s not that the show is fluffy. There are serious problems in the work, a sharp policy. “

Only Sanchez, Odjig and Janvier are still alive. The latter’s TSA TSA ke k’e (Iron Foot Place) will soon be a gigantic mosaic welcome mat in the new downtown arena. Sanchez, born in 1948, was the youngest member of PNIAI and recently saw Janvier’s work on display in Montreal, where it is being made.

An American now living in Santa Fe, New Mexico, Sanchez joined the PNIAI after Odjig purchased the work of the young marine in exile for her store and gallery in Winnipeg. He is eternally grateful, sitting in his sunny studio, as he discusses his shared history.

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Joseph Sanchez's Ghost Shirt, 1979-80, stone lithograph, is part of the 7: Professional Native Indian Artists Inc. exhibit presented at the AGM.
Joseph Sanchez’s Ghost Shirt, 1979-80, lithograph on stone, is part of the 7: Professional Native Indian Artists Inc. exhibit presented at the AGM. provided

Q: Can you tell us about Daphne Odgig’s role in launching your career?

A: It’s a great memory. I had deserted the Marine Corps and had already been in Canada for a few years in Vancouver. I had arrived in Winnipeg in the fall of 72. I put this drawing which is actually in the series (Mongo’s Unconsumed Rape) under my arm and walked in and saw it. She bought it, made prints and gave me money for the reproduction rights. She sold a lot of drawings and I was really encouraged to be an artist. It was just a very active time for the artists of Winnipeg; I carved a sculpture for the centennial of Winnipeg (Fertility Totem).

Q: Everything was centered on a place …

A: She had this little shop; you could get out of the cold. Winnipeg has been pretty tough. You could have coffee, and she would buy stuff. She had work from all these artists – anyone crossing the west would stop. His guestbook had Hollywood celebrities, MPs, Johnny Carson.

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Q: I keep seeing references to you being measured and photographed – is there a wax version of you out there?

A: (Laughs) I don’t know if they already have. Me and my painting (The Virgin of Light) have been measured, my silver-tipped cane, all this song and dance. I painted this painting for Multiculturalism in Music at the 1974 Juno Awards. And they lost track of the painting – it went to Europe and never came back.

Q: You returned to the United States under Gerald Ford’s amnesty program.

A: It was a “to do” thing, in order not to have a criminal record in the United States. This gave me the right to an unwanted discharge from the Marine Corps and 20 months of community service. It was up to (PNIAI). I must have got off in 75 as we were driving. I went back and forth a lot, I did community service, I tried to make a living in Canada.

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Q: What was it like to be the youngest? Were others nice to you?

A: (Laughs) Sometimes I can’t believe I was there, just amazing artists to be around. True masters of the trade – between Daphne, Alex and Norval. Best of Canada – solo shows at the National Gallery, you know? I felt totally privileged to even hear my voice. We teased each other. Norval called me “that damn American”. He came to my farm and painted one summer and it was amazing. I worked with Eddy, and especially Daphné in his studio. I have a painting of her and one by Alex from 2005, when we painted together in Ottawa at the National Gallery. I just spent a whole month with him up there. It has a nice setup in Cold Lake.

Q: Janvier invited me to come back to his gallery, but said he would also hunt me with a gun. And this mosaic on the floor of the arena …

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A: I have to see it Montreal! Oh, it’s gonna be amazing, this huge circle of light, where light comes in and reflects off the ground – all those glass tiles. Another amazing fresco by Alex to complement Morning Star (on the dome ceiling at the Canadian Museum of History). You can walk and dance on it if you want.

Q: How does it feel to see work from a certain time and place again on the wall at exhibit 7: Professional Native Indian Artists?

A: In Kelowna, I got to go around and see it with Daphne, that was the only time she could come, and it was really like seeing old friends. A large red picture that I painted side by side with her in her studio. It’s such an honor, and it’s different in every place. In Edmonton, where we each have solid walls, we haven’t had any anywhere else. I dropped my art to the side and was able to talk to 60 native students downstairs. It’s pretty cool, a nice way to end.

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PREVIEW

7: Professional Indian Artists Inc.

Or: Art Gallery of Alberta

When: until July 3

Admission: Adults $ 12.50, free members

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