Ottawa’s gallery Studio Sixty Six has just announced PRESENT TENSE (April 6 – May 6) where artists Kosisochukwu Nnebe, Guillermo Trejo and Florence Yee explore questions of the social structures and cultural meanings existing in contemporary “postcolonial” Canadian society in Present Tense.
Kosisochukwu Nnebe’s mixed media and sculptural work Of Canaries and Revolutions features multiple transparent layers of glass, each displaying a different portion of the painted figurative image she has depicted, so that the image of the figure changes as the viewer interacts around the work. The work “aims to visualize marginality as a site of resistance. It emphasizes the distinct perspective that derives from the positionality of Black women at the margins, and places their experiences and knowledge at the forefront.”1 It is only when the viewer shifts their view from the periphery to face the body of colour head on that the full image can be visually understood. A first generation Nigerian-Canadian artist, Nnebe’s work in Present Tense is literally and theoretically multi-faceted.
Guillermo Trejo, a Mexican artist based in Ottawa, brings print and mixed media work to Present Tense. Trejo’s largest work has the viewer encounter a large geographical map of the Americas (North, Central and South) positioned upside down and covered with timely and popular political reference. Trejo’s Flags from Nowhere, a series of raw prints on canvas, present as flags, flags of no actual country or place invented entirely by the artist, effectively “mocking the grandeur of imagined geopolitical identities – artificial places that are made out of borders. Trejo’s flags for non-existent states challenge the way a nation exists as both idea and land.”2
Florence Yee brings cultural reimaginings to Present Tense through her work of various media. Oh, Canada, an embroidered depiction of Tom Thomson’s Jack Pine, reveals its reverse covered in the original British flag of Canada, drawing from the domination of the physical and cultural landscapes of Canada by white men. Yee’s charcoal drawings in A History of Canadian Art History reimagine texts found in her university’s reading room, exposing the the lack of diversity and oftentimes racist perspectives within them. Yee’s other works in the exhibition, Variations on a Tourist Gaze, Finding Myself at the MMFA and Wallflower series all inject her socially-conscious motivations into oil painting. Finding Myself at the MMFA depicts a painted version of the artist interjected between the canvas and paint of a work in the Art Canadien et Quebecois pavilion at the Montréal Museum of Fine Arts/Musée des beaux-arts Montréal, as if the work is projected onto the artist’s body. Yee highlights the lack of institutional representation for people of colour at the museum: “I try to find my place in their space, and decide to insert myself into their paintings.”3
Societal, artistic and nationalistic frameworks are exposed and examined by these three artists, encouraging dialogue on the systems through which our society functions.
1 Kosisochukwu Nnebe, artwork statement
2 Lital Khaikin, curatorial text from these may (not) be places
3 Florence Yee, artwork statement
Text by Rose Ekins, Curator