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Robert Houle's, Paris/Ojibwa 
image credit: Michael Cullen, Trent Photographics


Robert Houle is a member of Sandy Bay First Nation, Manitoba. He currently lives and works in Toronto. The Anishnabe artist has played a significant role in retaining and defining First Nations identity and has drawn on Western art conventions to tackle lingering aspects of colonization and its postcolonial aftermath. Relying on the objectivity of modernity and the subjectivity of post-modernity Houle brings aboriginal history into his work through the interrogation of text and photographic documents from the dominant society. 

Houle studied art history at the University of Manitoba, art education at McGill University and painting and drawing at the International Summer Academy of Fine Arts in Salzburg, Austria. Exhibiting since the early 1970’s, his most recent exhibition, the multi-media installation Paris/Ojibwa, premiered at the Canadian Cultural Centre in Paris and makes its North American debut at the Art Gallery of Peterborough in May 2011.

Among his many solo exhibitions are Lost Tribes, at Hood College, Maryland; Indians from A to Z and Sovereignty over Subjectivity at the Winnipeg Art Gallery; Kanata: Robert Houle’s Histories and Palisade, at the Carleton University Art Gallery, Ottawa; Anishnabe Walker Court, an intervention at the Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto and Troubling Abstractions at the McLaughlin Art Gallery and the McMaster Museum of Art. The artist has also participated in several important international group exhibitions, including Innovations: New Expressions in Native American Painting at The Heard Museum, Phoenix; Traveling Theory, at the Jordan National Gallery, Amman, Jordan; Notions of Conflict, at the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam; Real Fictions: Four Canadian Artists, at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney, Australia; Tout le temps/Every Time, at the Montreal Biennale 2000; Transitions: Contemporary Indian and Inuit Art at the Russian Museum of Ethnography, St. Petersburg, Russia and We Come in Peace...: Histories of the Americas, at the Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal.

Houle was curator of contemporary aboriginal art at the Canadian Museum of Civilization from 1977 to 1981 and has curated and co-curated groundbreaking exhibitions such as New Work by a New Generation, in connection with the World Assembly of First Nations at the Norman Mackenzie Art Gallery in Regina in 1982, and Land Spirit Power: First Nations at the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa during the Columbus Quincentennial.

Houle has written many essays and monographs on major contemporary First Nations and Native American artists. He also taught native studies at the Ontario College of Art and Design in Toronto for fifteen years mentoring a new generation of artists and curators. Houle's considerable influence as an artist, curator, writer, educator and cultural theorist has led to his being awarded the Janet Braide Memorial Award for Excellence in Canadian Art History in 1993; the 2001 Toronto Arts Award for the Visual Arts; the Eiteljorg Fellowship in 2003; membership in the Royal Canadian Academy; distinguished Alumnus, University of Manitoba and the Canada Council International Residency Program for the Visual Arts in Paris. Additionally, Houle has served on various boards and advisory committees including those of The Art Gallery of Ontario, The Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art, The Aboriginal Curatorial Collective, A Space, The Power Plant and the Native Canadian Centre of Toronto.

Currently, he has returned to OCAD to lecture on indigenous abstraction in the faculty of art and is working on a group of portraits based on research done over the last three years in Paris. He has recently contributed an essay to the exhibition catalogue, The Colour of My Dreams: the Surrealist Revolution in Art, the largest exhibition of this movement ever to be presented in Canada at the Vancouver Art Gallery. He plans to publish a book based on his collected writings and thoughts on contemporary aboriginal art.

Robert Houle’s art installation, Paris/Ojibwa re-imagines a grand 1845 Parisian room in which two different cultures, Ojibwa and Parisian, make contact, evoking the lingering memory of the historical Maungwudaus and his (Mississauga) dance troupe performing for the Parisian court.

The artist first became aware of this enduring connection between cultures during a trip to Paris. He noted that exotic encounters with Native Americans impressed the 19th century Parisian imaginations of poets and painters, notably George Sand, Charles Baudelaire and Eugène Delacroix.

Robert writes that, “seeing the Delacroix sketch, Cinq etudes d’Indiens, (of the Ojibwa dancers) at the Louvre’s Pavillon de Flore, le department des arts graphiques was like traveling back in time to when Delacroix first drew it”.

The artist’s re-imagining of what may have happened in this encounter began in 2006 during his residency at La Cite des Arts in Paris. The resulting multi-media installation pays homage to the memory of the indigenous dance troupe, as well as a reflection on the crucial theme of the aesthetics of disappearance. The title of the work alludes to contact between Europeans and a group of Mississauga from Upper Canada guided by a remarkable man, George Henry, Maungwudaus (a Great Hero). Houle explains that his 16 foot square by 12 foot high set that installs replete with a sound component and futurist animation projection is “a cultural hybrid of theatricality and ethnicity”.

Robert Houle’s Paris/Ojibwa received support from the Canada Council and the Ontario Arts Council. A catalogue featuring essays by Nelcya Delanoë, Paris; Robert Houle and David McIntosh, Toronto and Barry Ace, Ottawa accompanies the show. A panel taking up Robert Houle's Paris Ojibwa was delivered during Ode'min Giizis Festival Saturday, June 18, 2011 at Market Hall in downtown Peterborough, Ontario, Canada.

MAY 14 TO SEPT 4, 2011


Curated by Carla Garnet

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