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Luther Konadu
Resilience presented by MAWA
July 19, 2018

As its title suggests, the basis for this nationwide outdoor exhibition of Indigenous women artists is resilience. Resilience addresses the word openly and considers not only its interrelatedness to the participating artists but also how it is rooted in their collective identities, memory, and customary practices.

Mary Anne Barkhouse

Spearheaded and administered by Mentoring Artists for Women’s Art (MAWA) in collaboration with long-time curator Lee-Ann Martin, the coast-to-coast exhibition has been over two years in the making. It brings together fifty artists working in a variety of visual practices and presents their contributions on over eighty Pattison billboards along major Canadian highways as well as on large-scale posters adjacent to or in reserves.

In the way that Félix González-Torres thought of his Untitled (Billboard Poster) as "a visual reference, an architectural sign of being, a monument for a community that has been ‘historically invisible,’” Resilience, in its intentions, shares a similar dialectic. It sets out to elevate and make known these artists who interweave the constellation of Indigenous histories, identities, and experiences they all hold. The exhibition works as an opportunity to recognize these selected artists' unyielding creativity while it also symbolically functions to promote the ceaseless efforts of Indigenous women to never stop defending their sovereignty and land.

KC Adams

Unfortunately, as much as these billboard artworks intend a collective elaboration of meaning, any messaging becomes diluted through the project’s production and presentation. Aside from images by Ursula Johnson and KC Adams that clearly exploit the language of advertising, it's easy to misinterpret the presence of works of art blown up with their respective labels next to them against a distracting computer-bluescreen backdrop.

Although they are meant as public art, an uninitiated eye would be at a loss as to the purpose of the overhead graphics. Are they auctioning off the work for a fundraiser or is this one of those ad campaigns where you’re not sure what they’re selling? What complicates things is how the art is interlaced with other ads in some of the electronic billboards. Do we now have to somehow install an ad blocker in order to appreciate what we came to see? Viewers shouldn't have to sit through commercials or view the work in relation to them. Unless, I suppose, that's just another tragic symptom of our capitalist bubble.

It's always hit or miss when art attempts to intervene in the noise of outdoor advertising. Public works often only get noticed when they are the subject of controversy. It is also hard to shake off the sight of any billboard as a canvas free from the residue of commercialized images that perpetuate violence and unattainable luxury.

The impact of Resilience's undertaking feels less like a guerilla art project and more of a potent idea sunken by its own form. The exhibition’s endeavor to forebodingly pronounce the nuanced endurance at the core of these artists and their diverging but collective communities only works in theory here. In practice, the administrators’ and curator's fertile thinking processes appear misguided, if not confused.

Resilience continues until August 1.
The project is presented by Mentoring Artists for Women’s Art.

Luther Konadu makes things such as photographs, paintings, and prints which he occasionally calls art. He self-describes as a transcriber. He contributes content to a publication called Public Parking. Most days his favourite colour is green and one of his goals in life is to never be an art brat. He is Akimblog’s Winnipeg correspondent and can be followed on Instagram @public_parking.



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