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Each year since 2000, the Governor General’s Awards in Visual and Media Arts have recognized Canadian artists for their remarkable careers and these awards represent the most prestigious distinctions for excellence in visual and media arts in Canada. This year, Dr. Gerald McMaster is the recipient of the 2022 Outstanding Contribution Award.
McMaster is nêhiyaw (Plains Cree) and a citizen of the Siksika Nation and an accomplished and well respected curator, artist, author and professor. He has more than 40 years of international work and expertise in contemporary art, critical theory, museology and Indigenous aesthetics, working at such institutions as the Art Gallery of Ontario, the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of the American Indian and the Canadian Museum of History.
As an integral component of the GGArts Awards, the National Gallery of Canada each year hosts a group exhibition highlighting the work and contribution to excellence by each laureate. This year for #GGARTS 2022, McMaster has incorporated Ace’s work Erased into a reinstallation of a groundbreaking installation of moccasins he originally installed in 1994 at the National Museum of the American Indian in New York.
In the 1990s, McMaster was Curator of Contemporary Indian Art at the Canadian Museum of Civilization (now Canadian Museum of History) in Gatineau, Quebec, a position he held until 2000. For the exhibition, All Roads Art Good: Native Voices on Life and Culture, McMaster, along with twenty-two other Indigenous artists, were nominated by their respective communities and asked to select objects from the NMAI Gustav Heye (pronounced high) collection on the basis of the “artistic, cultural, spiritual and personal significance.” The inaugural exhibition sought to present the world views of indigenous peoples of the Western Hemisphere, as reflected in more than 300 objects to illustrate the diversity and continuity of Native American cultures. Each contributor had their personal responses to the objects recorded on video as part of an interactive display.
McMaster chose to display 120 pairs of Indigenous footwear arranged in radiating concentric circles around a single drum, with some moccasins poised to dance. The installation demonstrated culture continuity through the interaction and engagement with a contemporary Indigenous artist/curator (via the installation and video component). As well, the installation encouraged viewers to challenge their preconceived notions of cultural stasis by re/imagining the wearer of the moccasins and witnessing the inferred animation of some of the footwear.
In recreating a downscaled version of this installation for the #GGArts exhibition, McMaster refreshes it with inclusion of contemporary art works that draw upon Indigenous footwear, including Ace’s work entitled Erased (2017). Ace purchased a pair of pink cowboy boots that he sourced from Housing Works in Hell’s Kitchen (NYC), a non-profit organization that provides advocacy, support, and lifesaving services to those impacted by homelessness and HIV/AIDS. Up-cycling these cowboy boots, Ace embellished them with electronic component floral work, referencing Anishinaabe beadwork, replete with telephone wire trail duster footwear extensions. For Ace, this work addresses his personal relationship to queer history of his generation in the 1980s and 1990s. It is also important to note that AIDS/HIV is not an eradicated pandemic. Today, HIV/AIDS is a medically manageable disease in First World, but it is still a deadly disease afflicting marginalized communities and Third World countries.
The #GGArts 2022 exhibition at the NGC runs from October 13, 2022 to January 29, 2023. While at the National Gallery of Canada, Erased is in close proximity and dialogue with the exhibition General Idea.