Museums and cultural institutions cancelled due to the Coronavirus outbreak

What impact will museum closures have on the art world?

Museums are places we go to learn, engage and explore. They are responsive and have the power to host a dynamic conversation with contemporary society. After the awakening from their somnolence through the 20th century, (most) museums are now self-conscious and mindful, acting as reflexive civil organizations. Alongside art fairs and biennials, the art world relies on the works presented at these institutions to determine the themes and artists of the next year’s cultural programming.

In light of the COVID-19 global pandemic, much of the world has ground to a sudden halt, due to social distancing to slow the spread of the virus. Art events were some of the first things to be affected by government recommendations to limit social gatherings, and museums swiftly followed suit, with a variety of responses.

Government warnings have issued different plans of action for museums around the world, either ordering them to close or leaving the message vague on whether shutting down is necessary. Int he UK, Geraldine Adams of the Museum Association noted, “some culture professionals are calling on institutions that remain open to take matters into their own hands and close immediately to protect public health,” even though many governments around the world are not calling on them to do so.

Globally, the list of museum closures and event postponement is extensive. Many are closing for a minimum of two weeks, some indefinitely. There are too many to name here, so visit the artnet news website  or this Google doc for the full list.

Annual art festivals are the most affected. They invite a global audience into one space, boost the tourism sector, the economy, and the veneration of ideas and artists. Postponements to cultural events include the Venice Biennale, which has cut three months of its programming, Art Basel’s Swiss Fair (after cancelling Art Basel Hong Kong) and Frieze New York, which has fully cancelled its summer 2020 programming.

In Montreal, all major museums have closed. To name a few, the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, the Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal, the Pointe-à-Callière Montréal Archaeology and History Complex will all be closed until March 30. The Canadian Centre for Architecture has closed until further notice, the Montreal Holocaust Museum will be closed until April 17, and The McCord Museum has closed for a minimum of two weeks.

Economic and labour effects

As much as it pains us all to admit it, cultural institutions do not run purely on the exchange of knowledge. Museums are able to function based on government funding, private investment or ticket sales. They act as major employers and nodes of economic exchange. Most public institutions will continue to receive government funding during this time, but what about the independent organizations, where revenue from visitation helps keep them afloat? There have been calls by the Museum Association to redirect funds from cancelled festivals and events across the world to help bail out museums in need.

This is affecting the already underpaid employees of many in the cultural field. The Los Angeles Times reported that many museums across the US have not laid off part-time and hourly staff, and planned to pay them until April 1—but after that, regular employment is uncertain, as they cannot know how the situation will develop. Many museums are using this opportunity to ask staff to aid in the development of new engagement techniques and online resources, rather than leaving all the work to the salaried employees, which could potentially restructure the archaic organizational hierarchies entrenched in many business models.

The New York Times reported that the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York is “reallocating discretionary resources usually used for acquisitions and programming toward operating expenses, fund-raising from foundations and donors and pursuing government assistance” to help mitigate the long-term financial impacts of COVID-19. As one of the most influential museums in the US, and arguably the world, it is thought that this will set the precedent for many other institutions, but this raises the question, what will happen with the artwork shown in the museums? Will there be fewer exhibitions, educational resources, and artists presented?

New initiatives

Many museums have been using this weird moment to get creative with how they engage their audiences on social media. The Museum From Home hashtag on Instagram and Twitter shows  highlights from gallery collections to create a pseudo-archive of the moment. Also, one of the trends that have been keeping me sane throughout the pandemic is the Museum Moment of Zen hashtag on Twitter. From cats to Monet paintings, many museums and galleries have been partaking in this wholesome hashtag. I, for one, can finally say that I have seen one of Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity Mirrored Room because of it, as the Broad Museum live-streamed the exhibit on their Instagram.

Some larger museums have, over the past few years, utilized new technology to provide virtual tours that are more important than ever in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. Over 500 institutions teamed up with Google Arts & Culture to open their doors to the internet community, providing a museum-going experience from the comfort of your home. Canada also runs a national Virtual Museum shared by museums and cultural heritage organizations. Smaller initiatives, like the Social Distance Gallery (@socialdistancegallery), have taken to Instagram to make sure student thesis shows are not lost in the transition to digitization.

The Canadian Centre for Architecture (CCA) posed the question last year, “is a database a museum?” With the digitization of all mediums of information, we could argue yes, so the learning aspects of museum-going may not be lost. However, the one-off educational workshops and experiential learning aspects cannot be excluded from the conversation and will take efforts on all ends to reach its potential.

It is not all bleak; more than 180 museums in China reopened this week after extended closures. According to Artnet, they have strict health measures in place, with most requiring visitors to submit their health code—a mandatory metric of tracking a person’s risk level. The museums are limiting the number of visitors, and some, including the Power Station of Art in Shanghai, have emergency quarantine areas set up on each floor.

But how can museums act as lighthouses for the current dystopian play we find ourselves in?

Museums should be working with the complex societal paradoxes we find ourselves in to make them accessible and digestible for a wide audience. Although this has mostly been done with a predominantly white eurocentric bias until the 21st century, the COVID-19 outbreak could be an opportunity to plan exhibits that reflect on the government, social, and economic inadequacies exposed by the global pandemic. From the necessity of universal basic income to drinking water issues in Indigenous communities to inept health care systems, this could be the time for mass institutional change and reflexivity in what they show and the ways they do so.

As Eunice Bélidor, a Montreal-based curator, critic and researcher, states in her latest curatorial tip; “In this moment of COVID-19 crisis, where access to cultural and art institutions are forbidden, curators have to find alternatives to a) keep presenting exhibitions b) pay artists. One of the best ways out there is to present online exhibitions, which currently are the only thing we have access to.”

There is light at the end of the tunnel; accessibility, new media and more creativity in museum engagement, so stay inside and happy viewing. Share your digital art experience with us on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook at @TheConcordian. 




Feature graphic by Sasha Axenova, Museum Cancellations gif by Chloë Lalonde and screenshot from Google Arts and Culture.



Navigating Quebec’s tight-knit art community

Changing the culture of representation for contemporary artists

Benjamin J. Allard, BA Concordia Communication Studies alumnus, former research assistant and Art Matters curator, currently runs Radio Atelier for CIBL 101.5. Radio Atelier a podcast about local artists and current exhibitions in the greater Montreal area, and Quebec at large.

Allard recently put forth a petition, as part of the INVISIBLES group, to highlight his concerns with arts representation in the media. INVISIBLES is specifically asking Radio-Canada to rethink their approaches to coverage of artists and arts events.

The petition, which now holds 10,572 signatures (and counting) is in French, and begins as follows; “we would like to draw your attention to the fact that the coverage of the visual arts on Radio-Canada contravenes your journalistic standards and practices by not respecting the principles of equity, impartiality and integrity.” Its clarity and strong language demand attention.

“INVISIBLES is an umbrella organization for people and institutions interested in the subject of visual art representation in the media,” said Allard.“It’s super new, they had a meeting in Quebec and we’ll have our first meetings in Montreal [soon].”

The petition has also made headway with the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), which opened a public platform, from Nov. 25 to Feb. 20, where individuals and collectives had the opportunity to suggest ideas and provide feedback on CBC/Radio-Canada programming as they renew their broadcasting licences, which expires on Aug. 31.

“We want to make sure that the content produced and distributed by CBC/Radio-Canada reflects the diversity of Canada’s population, while meeting its needs in both official languages,” read the platform. The forum will hold and record a public hearing on May 25 in Ottawa to further address the issue of representation.

Allard, along with a team representing INVISIBLES, was invited to meet with Radio-Canada on Feb. 20 to discuss their demands. They proposed a document of suggested practices, which was received well by Société Radio Canada/Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (SRC/CBC), L’Association des galeries d’art contemporain (AGAC) and the Artist-Run Centres and Collectives Conference (ARCA). However, SRC/CBC explained that contemporary artists need better press relations in order to receive accurate representation.

“There are some projects on their way to create something to help at that level, but nothing is confirmed,” said Allard. “AGAC and ARCA had things to say about that, it’s not something really new they told us. However, they also offered to meet radio producers, which (according to them), they never did before. It is very generous and it’s the sign that it’s the beginning of a dialogue.”

But, if pre-existing government-funded arts programmes, in and of themselves, are not exploring diverse audiences, how can we expect the media to do the same? 

Since its conception, the petition has also attracted the attention of MAtv’s “Mise à Jour Montréal” who invited Louise Déry, the director of UQAM’s art gallery, to discuss the issue.

In a segment of Feb. 17’s episode, Déry reflects on how art writers for The New Yorker, The New York Times and The LA Times attend art schools’ graduating exhibitions to get a sense of emerging artists. Quebec media, on the other hand, doesn’t do that.

In most of Quebec’s newspapers, the arts section has been merged with culture, leading coverage to typically include generally inaccessible events, such operas, plays and symphonies. Rarely do they immerse themselves in art galleries outside of Montreal’s larger cultural institutions.

Allard argues that it is always the same artists who are put forward on the Quebec scene, and this way of thinking starts in university.

Allard attended Concordia’s MFA Open studios on Feb. 19 and noticed that all their visiting artists were from Montreal. “This is unacceptable,” he said. “I think that [the] university should strive to create new networks and this passes by inviting people outside current networks.”

On their social media platforms, INVISIBLES showcases a Quebecois artist or art collective a day for a project called 366 jours/366 artistes. Among the 366 artists are multi-disciplinary, video, performance and screen printing artists like Rachel Echenberg, Marc-Antoine K. Phaneuf and Dominique Pétrin. Also featured in the project are some that are well represented, such as sculptor David Altmejd and Concordia Studio Arts professor, painter Janet Werner. Both artists have pieces at the Musée d’Art Contemporain in Montreal and the Musée national des beaux-arts in Quebec.

Tune in to Radio Atelier on CIBL 101.5 on Mondays at 6 p.m. for more from Allard, or find them wherever you get your podcasts. For more information, or to listen/download episodes online visit



Happening in and around the white cube this week…

Intro to arts writing 101 with Chloë

First thing: when I say arts writing I don’t mean art criticism. You’re allowed to have an opinion, but keep that out of it, for the most part. Who are we to judge work? Who is anyone to judge work? I don’t care how many years you went to art school for, it’s not your place.

Write about art. Tell its story, tell the artist’s story. Look and listen to what they have to say.  How do they want their name spelled? Any capitals? Make sure. Arts writing has its own quirks.

Writing about art and reporting on art is not the same. Don’t report, it’s boring and impersonal. Get personal. Talk to the artist, get sensitive, ask questions or don’t. Feel out that vibe, observe, react and research.

Take notes, sketch things out, make connections to other artists, to writers, to music, to things you learned in school. Eventually, it all mirrors itself and you’ll be able to start noticing thematic patterns everywhere you go.

Look at everything like it’s a work of art: the city, the skyline, architecture, the way windows expose an interior, how light falls in a space. Who occupies that place? How do they occupy it?

A person’s art is intimate, it’s personal, sometimes it’s a secret. Share your connections with them, sometimes a tit for tat really loosens up a conversation.

It’s important to share your perspective. Otherwise, everything is the way I see it, and that’s not very inclusive is it? We all have our biases, and it’s okay, in arts writing, to use those biases in our favour. Write about something you care about, but demonstrate that without having to use things like “I think” and “In my opinion,” those are for opinion pieces.

Be self-reflexive in the process. How did this work speak to you? Put visual ideas into words. Don’t be too fluffy, be concise. Don’t be as poetic as this text you’re reading right now.

Thank you for reading this all the way through! If you would like to give arts writing a try, email me! If not, well that’s cool too! Thank you for your time and attention.


The home, the settlers, and the uninvited

Ozone Gleaners explores notions of the “alien” through saturated hues and contrasting textures

Gallery spaces can often feel empty. Stark white walls and neon lights do not make for an inviting space, leaving the artists’ work to liven the space and instate a narrative. On display at Projet Pangée in downtown Montreal, Ozone Gleaners instantly captures the viewer’s attention, compelling them to engage with the work.

The exhibition unifies the works of artists Tiziana La Melia and geetha thurairajah, as a way of exploring representations of history, settling, and the notion of the unwelcome. The space fully embodies its namesake. Ozone is a colourless gas formed from ultraviolet light, while gleaners refers to someone who gathers or harvests. These ideas are further depicted in the narratives of the works and the ways in which they are portrayed.

Saturated in deep purples, blues, and pinks, the eye is instantly drawn to La Melia’s work. The Vancouver-based artist plays with texture and materiality to demonstrate the  polar differences between depictions of simple, or rural life, and notions of abstraction. She alters reality by removing spatial qualities from the work; characters can be found in settings that do not correspond to their garments and certain attributes, such as the size of homes and trees, are not rendered rationally.

In her 2020 work, Visitors, an illustration of a harvest scene is depicted in rich yellows and greens, contrasting with the pale silk canvas on which it is dyed. The artist makes a statement about notions of the unwelcome, through a fantastical approach, by depicting a fable-like narrative. She merges contrasting fantasy-like aspects, seen here as harvesters are standing against the delicate background. The figures wear lingerie-style garments, and seemingly do not belong. The idea of the “alien” lingers in the viewers mind, as they are left thinking about notions of settling and belonging, and can be left to consider the place of the figures in their underwear against a farm-like setting.

Brooklyn-based artist geetha thurairajah uses color and wide brushstrokes to play with the perception of surface and space in her expressive paintings. Her work considers language and histories, exploring these themes in an effort to examine who is left or removed from certain places and settings.

Her 2019 painting, Convergence, features a sketched figural silhouette against an ultraviolet background. Here, she plays with the idea of alienation and demonstrates this via wide brushstrokes to create an indiscernible plane. This makes the setting abstract and unrecognizable to the viewer, leaving them questioning their relationship to the work.

Together, La Melia and thurairajah’s works consider origin stories, and create a space where one is left to contemplate perceptions of space, who gets to belong in certain settings, and ultimately, who gets to write these histories.

Ozone Gleaners is on display at Projet Pangée, at 372 Ste-Catherine St. W, suite 412, until February 15, 2020. The gallery is open Wednesday to Saturday from 12 to 5 p.m.


Photos by Laurence B.D.


Imagine Van Gogh: the good, the bad and the ugly

Read our take on the exhibition on everyone’s newsfeed


Youmna El Halabi, Opinions Editor

It comes as no surprise to anyone who knows me that Van Gogh is one of my favourite painters ever. Imagine Van Gogh can be described as a visual presentation of all of the artist’s life’s work on several screens filling the gallery — even the floor.

The room goes dark, and suddenly a pair of familiar eyes stare right into my soul. As the image zooms out, the artist’s self portrait comes into view, and my eyes instantly teared up. Such pain, such agony, such melancholy, and such passion. Van Gogh disappears, his sketches make an appearance, and begin paving the way to what eventually made him famous.

The exhibition was all-consuming, all-too-captivating, and at times, even overwhelming. Normally I would walk around in a gallery, my own music in my ears, trying to depict whatever the artist attempted to convey. Imagine Van Gogh, I felt, was not like a normal exposition. I didn’t walk around, nor did I feel the need to. I remember feeling the urge to find a corner in the room, sit there comfortably, and watch.

As Van Gogh’s work unfolds right in front of me, I am engulfed in all the colours of his palette. From the blinding yellow of his decaying but bright Sunflowers, to the depth of the indigo blue in Starry Night.

There are very few things in this world that would make me cry in public, and Imagine Van Gogh definitely made the list. Imagine Van Gogh brought me into a world I never wanted to leave — if I were without responsibilities and bills, I wouldn’t have.


Lisa Massa, Contributor

I love a good blockbuster exhibition every now and then. Between the many advertisements plastered on social media and the many queries from friends and family, I knew Imagine Van Gogh had to make its way on my checklist.

Before getting into the actual exhibition, there is a room dedicated to contextualizing the life of Van Gogh. Chronologically organized, suspended placards provided visitors with a significant amount of information of the artist’s journey, from his youth until his death in 1890, at 37.

For those interested in art and art history but sometimes feel intimidated by being within a traditional museum atmosphere, Imagine Van Gogh offered a new perspective on engaging with art. The space is dynamic with people of all ages, freely conversing and laughing while looking at the projections of Van Gogh’s stunning paintings.

I view Imagine Van Gogh much the same as I do many major art exhibitions – a great way to immerse the general population into the art world, drawing interest from various age groups and backgrounds.

The exhibition was pretty lackluster overall to say the least. In total, I spent approximately 45 minutes in the space, unsure of whether I had seen a full loop or not, and not caring to stay any longer. After a while, the exhibition was boring. The way I see it goes as follows: when one enters a museum for a solo visit, the guest has full autonomy in choosing what they wish to see, and in what order (most times, anyway).

Imagine Van Gogh only had one room of projections, which felt incomplete. Once in the space, the novelty of being immersed in the paintings wears off, leaving me wondering what made this different than a blown up PowerPoint presentation. Van Gogh’s works were originally quite small, averaging approximately 30cm x 40cm so, by increasing the scale of his works to be greater than human, I did not exactly feel immersed into the paintings. Rather, I felt surrounded or trapped by them.


Lorenza Mezzapelle, Assistant Arts Editor

My initial reaction to the advertisements for Imagine Van Gogh in Montreal was along the lines of “Oh wow, that’s where all those Instagram photos come from.” I had seen many Scandinavian and European influencers posting photos of the large projections, but never bothered researching the source. I simply assumed the photos were from the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam.

The idea of a renowned artist’s work being this heavily marketed intrigued me for numerous reasons. I wondered, why Van Gogh? I came to the conclusion that everyone knows Van Gogh, and thus, displaying his work meant accessibility. But therein lies the dilemma. With tickets prices varying by age, day and time of attendance, the show is in no way accessible. While Van Gogh is known by even non-connoisseurs, the exhibition does not lend itself to the democratization of art. While a fantastic idea in theory, Imagine Van Gogh remains fundamentally problematic.

I would be lying if I said I wasn’t mesmerized by the colours that seemed to dance alongside some of my favourite classical music. Seeing the enlarged brushstrokes of the artist’s famous self-portraits was definitely a remarkable experience.

However, as marketed, and much along the lines of my initial association to Instagram influencers, the exhibition remained a marketing trap. The majority of visitors skipped past the biographical information and curator’s statement, immediately taking out their phones to document the experience. The amount of phone screens lit up in the room made it feel less like an artistic experience, and more like an elitist, social media trap disguised as culture.

While I wish I could say that Imagine Van Gogh will continue to enable the general public —  both those well-versed in art, and those not — to experience and understand the history of a great artist, I cannot.

There is no doubt the experience was beautiful, but it remains too inaccessible to be appreciated by most.



Photo by Lorenza Mezzapelle.


Illumi, an ode to winter’s beauty and magic

The incredible outdoor light show proves that winter isn’t so bad after all

As winter progresses and the days become shorter, Illumi–A Dazzling World of Lights by Cavalia–which took place in Laval from Nov. 1 to Jan. 5, showcased winter’s beauty with millions of gorgeous lights, all while transporting visitors through different places with sight and sound.

Illumi offers much more than a dazzling, original, and seemingly endless universe of lights. The experience also includes food trucks and numerous small stores to visit, all placed at the main entrance of the course and referred to as the Christmas Market.

Illumi presents eight different worlds, beginning with The Many Colours of the Savanna, followed by Feliz Navidad, Infinite Poles, Santa’s Real Home, Dreaming of the Star, The Merry-Go-Round Square, Magic Lanterns and Frolic on the Boulevard. These different worlds are placed on a course and visitors are free to visit at their own rhythm, though the light show’s website states that it takes 90 minutes to get through them all.

When I attended with my family over the break, we spent over two hours outdoors which allowed us to disconnect from our phones and spend time together and talk. We began in the The Many Colours of the Savanna, which showcased animals composed of different coloured fairy lights; elephants, giraffes, flamingos, zebras and lions were presented beautifully. Trees were also different shades of white, purple and green. The bright adventure was accompanied by african music which seemed to melt the snow away and transport us back to summer.

Moving on to Feliz Navidad, the even brighter coloured world represented the beauty of South America, drawing inspiration from multiple hispanic cultures, from Mexico to Perù. The exhibition celebrated the multiculturalism of South America through its visuals and blend of different types of hispanic music. This world contained llamas, giant piñatas, birds, Indigenous-inspired masks, butterflies, flowers and a multitude of other tropical animals. It was a nice part of the Illumi experience as I was able to feel pride for being part of the latinx community.

Infinite Poles contained many arctic animals such as penguins, polar bears and deer, surrounded by a seemingly-endless legion of stalagmites and igloos of different sizes and colours to explore. Infinite Poles was also accompanied by a very adorable holiday world which exhibited snowmen, gifts and snowflakes among other holiday symbols.

Although Illumi is a light show throughout, a short film titled Dreaming of the Star  was presented on a large screen that was solely made up of lightbulbs–four million in total. The multimedia tale told the story of two siblings who went on a quest to find the brightest star in the sky to decorate their christmas tree.

The Merry-Go-Round Square, which had a carousel composed of white cavalia horses, gave visitors a fun place to rest. Magic Lanterns was mainly composed of Asian fauna and references to samurai and geishas, as well as pandas, fish, dragons and cherry blossom trees. Frolic on the Boulevard honoured Hollywood with a bright silhouette of Marilyn Monroe as well as a clapperboard, among other pop culture references, all accompanied by popular film scores.

Though its prices and location aren’t the most accessible, Illumi filled visitors with wonder over the holidays.


Photo by Camila Caridad Rivas


Infinite Light: An installation offering expression, abstraction and illumination

 Kiran Abwani uses fibre optic lights to create work that glows

Kiran Abwani’s lightboxes are displayed on four walls within the first room beyond the entry of Never Apart gallery. This creative space is 1,200 square feet dedicated to the mission of “ending separation and igniting positive change and unity through culture,” as indicated on its website. The Centre focuses on conscious living by breaking down barriers of separation in society through music, art, panel discussions, and other events.

The first thing I noticed in the exhibit was how strongly my eyes were drawn around the room as line and colour created a rhythm across the entirety of the work. Movement and intensity of hues create a visual theme as you make your way around the installation. Abwani uses black wood framing around the lightboxes, which offers a simple yet reliable structure to the pieces.

Each work glows through the transparent acrylic and puts forth a subtle radiance in the space of the gallery. A focal point among each piece is evident, although some of the works portray this stronger than others. It is the light streaks within each work that draw the eye to these focal points.

Making my way through the exhibit, I was fortunate enough to see that Abwani was at the gallery showing her work to family members. I had a brief chance to speak to her. She said that this work is unusual for her, as her typical photography style is documentary in nature. With this series, she wanted to branch out and try something new.

As a photographer myself, I understand the exploration of light as a fascinating endeavour, and she indicated her interest in this type of investigation. Abwani created the images through long exposure photography using the movement of colourful fibre optic lights and mirrors. Light trails create the patterns and lines that we see shining through the transparent acrylic.

The artist explained the strong attraction towards experimentation in her light work and the uniqueness of each piece. No two pieces will ever be exactly alike, she explained. Each artwork shows an inherent presentation of spontaneity. Some images take on smooth, soft waves in blues and greens alongside more frantic and aggressive red and orange bolts of glowing lines. The vibrancy of colour ties the work together.

With titles like Dancing Sparks, Big Bang and Galactic Trip, an inherent theme of space and time is discernible not only from her words but also the aesthetics of the work. Although the series has unity and cohesion as a whole, the piece Infinite Light hangs on its own wall and appears to flash subtly, making the reddish-orange orb in the middle of the composition jump out at the viewer.

This work appears as the anchor for the show and I find myself continually drawn to it.

“As a visual storyteller, I aim to capture moments & experiences and to visually share these instances, perspectives and stories with my audience,” said Abwani in her artist statement. “Creating a connection with my audience is essential in my artistic practice, and with this series, I invite viewers to participate in the experience.”

The stories and connections are bold and symbolic in Kiran Abwani’s series, an experience that leaves the viewer with a fascination and inclination to look beyond the light and into the stories of the artworks.

Infinite Light is on view at Never Apart on Saturdays from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. until Jan. 4, 2020.


Photos by Shannon Roy.


Questioning materiality and artistic significance

In a time of ecological and economic crises, what significance does material culture hold? Can art play a role beyond aestheticism?

Material culture - the study of objects and the physical space they occupy, including works of art as objects - raises many questions in the art world, including the place artworks hold in defining a cultural history and identity. These questions are a constant topic of conversation among artists, viewers, and curators alike.

Having visited numerous UNESCO sites, historic landmarks, and almost every major city on my solo trip to Morocco in May, I was eager to see what the contemporary art scene was like and how it would compare to that of Montreal.

I had not read anything about the space prior to my visit to the Museum of African Contemporary Art Al Maaden (MACAAL), in Marrakech, Morocco. Nor had I done any research; I had no context as to what I would see or any expectations, for that matter.

The exhibition at the time of my visit, Material Insanity, featured the work of over 30 African artists, both from the continent and its diaspora, including Berlin-based conceptual artist Adrian Piper, and music collective KOKOKO!.

As the title suggests, Material Insanity explores the significance of material culture and commodification and creates a discourse surrounding collective cultural experiences revolving around materiality and visual imagery.

I’ve been thinking about this exhibition a lot since returning from my trip and as I visit many new art shows in and around Montreal. The exhibition and museum, as a whole, creates a space for engaging in a dialogue about the collective and individual experiences of artists throughout the continent, through references to culture, politics, and economics.

The MACAAL creates an environment where artists and viewers can converse about and reflect on issues that pertain to their cultural identity and experiences. I truly felt as though, for the first time, I was visiting a museum that held cultural significance and begged for answers to pertinent questions.

Takadiwa’s work, Washen Again, speaks to the importance of imagery and visual culture while simultaneously playing a pertinent role in an ongoing ecological crisis. Photo by Lorenza Mezzapelle.

Having previously read and written about Moffat Takadiwa, a multi-disciplinary Zimbabwean artist, I was overwhelmed, to say the least, when I saw one of his works featured in the museum.

Takadiwa’s work explores personal and collective histories through the use of recycled and found objects. His visual interpretation of current issues makes a commentary on material culture in conjunction with the economic crisis of his country and community.

Takadiwa’s piece, Washen Again, is composed of toothbrushes and dishwashing soap bottle tops. The large scale sculpture shares similar qualities to an intricate rug; the found objects placed methodically to give the appearance of woven details, alternating in tones of red, green, and beige.

The featured works’ significance speaks to the importance of imagery and visual culture, while simultaneously playing a pertinent role in an ongoing ecological crisis. The act of repurposing found objects that no longer serve a purpose, and breathing new life into them, demonstrates the artistic capabilities of the exhibited artists.

The MACAAL’s creation and development of a dialogue - which at once explores relevant cultural issues and contributes to a continent’s cultural history and international representation - is a component that lacks from most large art institutions.

I cannot think of anything else that fully encompasses being an artist or curator, other than creating artwork with all that one has instead of buying new.

Further information about the Museum of African Contemporary Art Al Maaden can be found at A 3D tour of Material Insanity can be found at


Photos by Lorenza Mezzapelle


Reclaiming cultural identity through decoloniality

Tropical patterns, the sound of waves, and palm trees are most often what is demonstrated when the Caribbean islands are depicted in the Western world. While picturesque, this romanticized portrayal curated by the Western gaze fails to acknowledge the islands’ colonial history and the effects of mass tourism.

On view at Fonderie Darling in Old Montreal, Archipelago of the Invisibles presents the work of two former international residents, Marina Reyes Franco and Javier González Pesce. The exhibit celebrates Latin American art, artists, and curators for the 10-year anniversary of the Residency of the Americas. The residency aims to establish relationships between communities through the Americas, as a means of fostering open-mindedness and inclusivity.

The two exhibitions, Two Ways to Disappear Without Losing the Physical Form and Resisting Paradise explore the ways in which we view one another – through the exploration of themes of identity, representation, and erasure. They examine the cultural and socio-political effects of the regions’ complex histories.

Two Ways to Disappear Without Losing the Physical Form, on display in the main hall, is curated by Ji-Yoon Han. Resisting Paradise, on display in the Small Gallery, is curated by Marina Reyes Franco, whose curatorial research focuses on post-colonial theory in popular culture.

In the Small Gallery, Joiri Minaya, a Dominican-American multidisciplinary artist, explores themes of identity from a decolonial space. Decoloniality, a term associated with a new Latin American movement, aims to recognize the socio-political implications of Western modes of thinking, how colonialism continually affects people, and challenges Eurocentric standards and structures of power.

Photo by Britanny Guiseppe-Clarke

Minaya’s video, Siboney, documents Minaya, clad in white, painting a mural inspired by a ‘tropical’ patterned shirt. Once finished, Minaya proceeds by pouring water over herself and rubbing herself against the mural until it is ultimately ruined. All the while, a slow rendition of Connie Francis’ song “Siboney” plays in the background.

The use of ‘tropical’ fabric references Western representations of the ‘foreign’, while the act of Minaya rubbing herself against, and undoing the painting – alongside the sensual version of Francis’ “Siboney” – is a symbol of the idealization of Caribbean bodies, seen as subjects in ‘paradise’ by colonizers.

Similarly, Minaya’s piece, #dominicanwomengooglesearch, explores various representations of the body. The installation consists of digital prints of images found by searching “Dominican women” on Google. Some images are pixelated and others stylized with tropical patterned fabrics, representing romanticized portrayals and interpretations of ‘tropical’ bodies.

In the Grande Salle, Javier González Pesce, a Chilean artist, explores themes of disappearance in his work The Island of the Un-adapted. The installation consists of roofing sheets and objects found and collected from rooftops in Santiago. The objects, assembled into “archipelagos”–or groups of islands– on the rooftop, represent the removal and scattering of items in the visual world.

While the items no longer serve a purpose and were discarded, they now form a group of small islands and therefore, are a symbol of hope. Their ability to float implies an ability to survive, regardless of imposed conditions.

González Pesce’s second project, Untitled (Human Face), consists of a sculpture and video. The sculptures, three canoes sculpted to resemble facial features, are placed across a video demonstrating the three canoes – or facial elements – moving and rearranging themselves in the sea. The installation symbolizes the evolution and disappearance of the face on a constantly changing surface.

Together, Two Ways to Disappear Without Losing the Physical Form and Resisting Paradise create a dialogue surrounding themes of representation and colonialism, and aim to recontextualize and reclaim the artists’ cultural identity in the visual world.

Archipelago of the Invisibles is on display at Darling Foundry, at 745 Ottawa St., until Dec. 8. The gallery is open Wednesday to Sunday, from 12 to 7 p.m., and Thursday, from 12-10 p.m.


Feature photo by Lorenza Mezzapelle


Outside the museum: part one

Montreal and public art, a feature story to be published in three parts.

Public art seems to bring out a lot of negative opinions in our province. So why does the government keep on investing in it?

“You’re not photographing this! It’s fucking ugly,” says a construction worker to artist Michel Saulnier, as he takes a picture of one of his public artworks: a larger-than-life bear, installed right outside the Children’s Hospital at the McGill University Health Centre.

According to the Bureau d’art public, there are more than 315 works of public art displayed around the city of Montreal, and they often elicit strong reactions — be they good or bad. In Suzanne Guy’s documentary on public art in Quebec, À Tout Hasard, artist Jean-Robert Drouillard recalls a moment when a teenage girl saw his life-sized dancer sculpture. “It’s not going to stay here,” she said to the artist, thinking he was a construction worker installing it. People are often shocked when made to look at contemporary art. “A [lesson of] at least notions on how to look at a piece of art, would be needed,” said Pascal Beaudet, project manager at the Ministry of Culture and Communications.

In the summer of 2015, the city of Montreal unveiled La Vélocité des Lieux, a work of public art by collective BGL on the corner of Henri-Bourassa and Pie-IX boulevards. Many people used the launch of this particular piece to express their discontentment with public art. In a Journal de Montréal story announcing the launch of the work, 133 people commented online, and very few had positive opinions. Many questioned why money was spent on public art, considering there were so many cuts to governmental services like health and education. “It’s ugly, too expensive and useless,” said one citizen in the comments. Even if one of the goals of public art is to, among other things, make art more accessible, negative opinions seem to hold more weight for those in the arts.

Why does the government keep investing in public art?

Public art, according to the Canadian Encyclopaedia, is commissioned for a public space where the composition, dimensions and proportions blend into the surroundings. “It’s a way of being directly in contact with art without having to make an effort,” said Beaudet.

When Saulnier was working on his bear cub statue on the MUHC site, a piece named Je suis là,  he experienced first-hand the reactions of having his works of art on display at a public site. Construction workers passing by stopped to comment on how they had asked for more materials and were refused, but that the government paid for an illuminated bear cub. Why is it that healthcare is being subjected to so many cuts, but the government has money for art, some would ask? For Saulnier, those reactions reflect a lack of understanding of the one per cent decree.

The Quebec policy of Integration of Art to Architecture, also known as the one per cent decree, was first established in 1961. With some modifications over the years, it has resulted in an obligation to spend approximately one per cent of the building’s total construction budget on public art. This policy applies to all buildings that receive grants from the government.

The decree promotes art creation and acquisition, advertises the works of Quebec’s artists and allows people all over the province to have access to contemporary art, according to Art Public Montréal.

The process of integrating art into architecture is complex. Beaudet said the integration starts with a file, a sort of bank, which gathers artists according to categories. Professional artists join the file on a voluntary basis, and then two members of the ministry and two visual arts specialists review their applications. There are many requirements that must be met in order to join the file: the artist needs to have Canadian citizenship, to have been living in Quebec for at least 12 months and to have professional artist status. Then, when a building receives a grant, a project manager will go through the construction project to create a committee that will establish the type of artwork to include based on the place and what would appeal to the people that occupy it. A few artists from the file will then be invited to propose a project.

While the ministry takes care of the art in the whole province, the Montreal Public Art Bureau, created in 1989, is responsible for all public art within the city. Laurent Vernet, commissioner of the bureau, said the one per cent decree is managed in Montreal by the bureau, following the ministry process. They also take care of the investments made by the city of Montreal outside of the policy.

Some projects are not included in the one per cent decree, but still receive investments from the city of Montreal. That was the case for La Vélocité des Lieux. The bureau needs to review those investments, making sure they are pertinent and fit correctly within the overall environment of the city. Since investment projects don’t have a predetermined budget, unlike those who qualify under the one per cent decree, the bureau works with comparable projects. Usually, the allotted budget will be of about one or two per cent of the total cost of the building.

This article is part of a long-form feature on public art that will be presented in three parts. Stay tuned for part two, which will appear in our Nov. 15 issue.    


Explore the city’s best art this summer

Image via Wikipedia

Musée d’art Contemporain

The Musée d’art contemporain is actually Montreal’s ideal summer venue for a variety of reasons. Truth be told, we all know that our idea of our summer outings does not include being cooped up indoors. To remedy this instinctive need for vitamin D that spreads amongst Montrealers the second that our temperature hits 10 degrees, the museum is located in the ideal district for downtown strollers. In the heart of the Quartier des Spectacles, right next to the venue for major summer events like the Jazz Festival, the MAC becomes an ideal solution for Montreal’s temperamental heat waves.

It also offers a variety of late night conferences or workshops, which make it the place to be before hitting a bar or a restaurant with friends. Often filled with controversial artistic material that will render dinner conversation all the more interesting, the MAC is definitely a great stop to hit up with company. The museum’s current exhibition, Laurent Grasso: Uraniborg, which runs till the end of April, is a sculptural installation for the most part, playing on interactivity in the arts as one of its key concepts.

The MAC is located at 185 Ste-Catherine St. W. Open Tuesday to Sunday. Admission is $8 for students.

-Ariana Trigueros-Corbo

The Canadian Centre for Architecture

A lot of people go to the CCA for the comprehensive research archives, educational seminars, and world-class exhibits; I like to go in the summer because it’s air conditioned and allows me to surround myself with beautiful model buildings. Founded in 1979, the CCA houses continually changing collections of plans, photographs and other architectural artifacts, dating all the way back to the renaissance.

The Canadian Centre for Architecture. Image via Flickr

You don’t have to be an expert in the field. The masterfully curated galleries feature notes that a layman can understand. Additionally, the integration of other disciples such as design history, sociology as well as community development makes for an engaging experience. If by the end of the tour your curiosity is piqued by the collections, head over to the fantastic bookstore that holds literature to meet all your architectural needs.

The CCA building itself is a Montreal landmark. Designed by Montrealer Peter Rose, the aesthetically modern grey limestone structure is a sight to behold behind its vast green lawn if you stand on the south side of René-Lévesque Blvd. Turn your head to the other side of the street and you can see and enter an open air museum: a public urban garden of sculptural heaven.

The Canadian Centre for Architecture is located at 1920 Baile St. Free admission for students. It is open Wednesday to Sunday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Thursday 11 a.m. to 9 p.m..

-Roa Abdel-Gawad

George-Étienne Cartier Monument

Canadian summer is the shortest time of year, so it’s important to soak up every minute of the precious sun and warmth. My favourite place to do that and enjoy art at the same time is under the watchful, beautifully sculpted figures of the George-Étienne Cartier monument in blissful Mount Royal Park. The statue itself provides shade and places to sit but you can also sit on the grassy knolls that surround it. It’s free and it’s beautiful and it’s also a huge part of the Montreal scenery. Unfortunately it’s right next to a busy road, but that also means its easy to get to.

The monument is located at the corner of Parc St. and Rachel St.

-Amanda L. Shore


Capturing the character of a city

Gabor Szilasi, Illuminated Sign Series, La Fierté a une ville, Montréal. 1983.
CCA Collection. © Gabor Szilazi

Earlier this year, in an initiative taken to build an open-source exhibit that would, in a very à propos fashion, be titled ABC: MTL, the Centre for Canadian Architecture launched a public call for proposals to garnish its future compendium of a city. The goal was to illustrate what makes a city iconic in a subtle fashion and what pieces of urban development and parcels of architecture make it singularly recognizable in its present form, in its perspectives, and for the future.

The exhibit is the third part in a series of shows that the CCA has put on in the past 20 years. The first part, Montréal Métropole: 1880-1930, was launched in 1998 and the second, Montreal Thinks Big, was showcased in 2004. According to the description of the exhibit, Montréal Métropole 1880-1930 considered the upbringing of a city and what makes it, over the span of time, “the behemoth of trade and industry at the turn of the century.” On the other hand, Montreal Thinks Big considered Montreal’s response to its growth and increasing population with respect to the infrastructures of the city. Although it is equally concerned with our city, ABC: MTL is unique in the sense that it is the first of the three exhibits to focus on our city in the here and now.

The open source project launched on Nov. 15 after months of proposal gathering and selection processes. The result is an amalgam of photography, architecture recommendations and typographic illustrations, all of which coin Montreal oh so well. Divided into diverse parts of the city, the exhibit focuses on areas and topics that characterize it as a whole. For example, one corner of the show explores and considers the indoor and underground world of Montreal. Artists individually consider the forgotten or exploited areas of our city, from the organization of our alleys to how we utilize the underground to showcase artistic installations.

Olivo Barbieri, Aerial view of La Ronde amusement park and the Jacques Cartier Bridge, Montréal, 2004.
CCA Collection. Gift of The Sandra and Leo Kolber Foundation

Sprawled throughout the exhibit, visitors will find statistic indicators, printed boldly in black and white, which contrast the overall qualitative feel of the exhibit. The numbers paint a portrait of a city that is constantly busy, constantly in movement. Abandoned buildings, alleyways, hotels, and bridges — everything is taken into account.

As a viewer of this exhibit, what’s fascinating to watch is how artists’ visions and approaches to the city can be totally different. On one hand, you’ll have an artist who, via panoramic photography, will depict how citizens are utterly engulfed by the traffic and movement that surround the intersections of our city. Fewer than two steps away, all in the same exhibit, another photographer attempts to showcase the human side of one of our city’s misrepresented institutions, focusing exclusively on portraits of police officers in the face of demonstrations on police brutality. The idea is that the visions of a collective will make their city iconic. Regardless of traffic, institutions and architecture, a city, no matter how busy, will always be what its citizens make of it.

ABC: MTL runs until March 31, 2013 at the Canadian Centre for Architecture, 1920 Baile St. For more information visit

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