Canada, as we know it today, was established in 1867 when the colonies of Canada, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia joined together, to be followed by other provinces and territories. Two exhibitions in London celebrate the 150th anniversary of this event, looking at different aspects of Canadian nationalism and identity through art.
The Canadian flag with its recognisable red maple leaf is just over 50 years old, but it already symbolises the nation in the modern world. In “Felled Trees” at the Canada Gallery, five artists use the colours and symbolism of the flag in new work. Alex McLeod’s digital video “Bloodmountains” uses the red and white colours of the flag as the contrast between loss of life in war and the Canadian role of peacemaking as an overlay on the Canadian landscape, while David Garneau’s flag is painted on a brick wall, highlighting the tensions of the border with the USA which takes no account of the ancestral lands of the indigenous tribes.
Diana Thorncroft also explores the relationship with the USA and the love/hate relationship with its large southern neighbour, while Marianne Nicolson adopts the three vertical bands of the Canadian flag, looking backwards to the challenges the First Nations have endured and looking forward to the care needed in terms of Canada’s growing economic relationship with China and potential exploitation and loss of natural resources. Also looking back in history, Charles Patcher replaces the Canadian flag with the colours of the Hudson’s Bay Company, which at one time owned 15% of North America and was, de facto, Canada.
At Beers London, in “O Canada!”, recent work by 11 artists explore whether there is a Canadian identity in art. Beyond the obvious pictures of mountains, flora, fauna and animals by Kim Dorland, there are explorations into abstract art by Fiona Ackerman, unexpected floral paintings by Andrew Salgado and, bringing things back to London, Andy Dixon’s “Patron’s Home (London).”
Is there a Canadian identity in art? The answer is varied – some artists link to indigenous art or to the natural environment; others are more international in style.