image description


Inspired by very special The Path We Share exhibition of First Nations works currently on view at the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia: a past 2011 article in our coveted members’ magazine, Journal, about the Gallery’s First Nations collection and artist Daphne Odjig

Get comfortable, grab a tea and learn why these works remain a relevant and important part of our Permanent Collection.

Adding key works to the Gallery’s First Nations collection is one of our identified Acquisition priorities and these works were recommended with great enthusiasm by the Gallery curatorial staff and Acquisitions Committee. Daphne Odjig is an under-represented First Nations artist in the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia collection. We have only one other Odjig work – the dynamic Thunderbird Woman – and that is held in the ArtReach collection which is designated to travel to schools and community centres across the province, limiting the in-Gallery availability for exhibition. These four prints by Odjig comprising her Homage to Grandfather series are invaluable for their aesthetic qualities, exemplary of one of Canada’s foremost artists, as well as in comparison with both Odjig’s own expansive body of work and also the work of her fellow Woodland School artists such as Norval Morrisseau.

Odjig is an internationally recognized artist born in 1919 and raised on the Wikwemikong Unceded Indian Reserve on Manitoulin Island (Lake Huron), Ontario, Canada. The Odjig family was among the Potawatomi who migrated north and settled in Wikwemikong after the War of 1812. The list of Odjig’s honours, accomplishments and exhibitions is long. She was the first First Nations woman artist to have a solo exhibition at the National Gallery of Canada (2009) and her work was even recently featured on three stamps issued by Canada Post to celebrate her importance to Canadian art. She is a member of the Order of Canada, the Order of British Columbia, holds seven honorary degrees, has received a National Aboriginal Achievement Award, a Governor General’s Laureate, Visual and Media Arts, and an Expression Award from the National Film Board of Canada, in recognition of work that champions Canadian cultural diversity.

Odjig’s approach shows a community united by culture, blood, and affection.

The Homage to Grandfather series offers a personal glimpse into the life of Odjig, differing from her work detailing the history and legends of her people. The figures emerge from a series of smooth circles, ovals, and sinuous curves, with bold blocks of colours reinforcing shapes within shapes that not only create a unified image, but visually reinforce the idea of cyclical patterns, harmony, and the interconnectedness to all people and things that these figures (and all of humanity) share. Odjig’s approach to this series shows the individual faces rising from indistinct communal bodies; a community united by culture, blood, and affection.

Each of these prints captures a particular moment that speaks of Odjig’s own experiences growing up. Listening is an entrancing print, the joyous smile of the Grandfather as he hugs his grandchild closely, listening to the child. The only clear distinction between the figures is their individual heads and their feet; their blankets and clothing otherwise meld together, suggesting rather than defining with sinuous calligraphic shapes.

The moment portrayed in Learning is self-evident and speaks not only of the universal idea of children learning from their elders, but also a culture-specific action. The figures wrapped in decorative, traditional blankets provide a hint that the topic of discussion may also be traditional. The intimate proximity of the figures to each other also adds to the portrayal – it is learning, not teaching.

The grandfather and the grandchildren are individuals, but also joined closely by bonds of affection and family.

Comforting again captures a universal grandparent moment, the face of the Grandfather serene and calming, the faces of the two grandchildren relaxed in total trust. Again, the bold shapes and blocks of colour serve to highlight the countenance of the individuals, while the bodies and clothing meld together. This joining of shapes is stylistic, yet also part of the story of this series – the grandfather and the grandchildren are individuals, but also joined closely by bonds of affection and family.

This idea of separate yet connected is emphasized in Belonging, which shows a group of children snugged close to the central grandfather figure. The body shapes in this work flow towards the centre – towards the Grandfather – creating a movement that is both physical and emotional.

Each of the prints in this series speaks of family, culture and the important relationship and deep affection that can and should exist between elders and children – appropriate for someone who is herself seen as a matriarchal figure who has captured her people’s voice, history and legends in a unique artistic style. Odjig has inspired many as one of the co-founders of the “Indian Group of Seven” (Professional Native Indian Artists Association), participating in the very first exhibition of Native artists in a Canadian public gallery (Winnipeg, 1972). Although originally associated with the Woodland School of Anishnabe painters, Odjig developed her own approach, one both fluid and expressive that comes across clearly in the strongly personal Homage to Grandfather series.

Shannon Parker

Curator of Collections

Stay up to date with the AGNS newsletter