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Looking the World in the Face. Group exhibition. Curator: Amin Asladen. Âjagemô art space (Canada Council for the Arts), Ottawa, Ontario. (June 16, 2022 – May 23, 2023)

In 2022, the Canada Council Art Bank celebrates its 50th anniversary with Looking the World in the FaceThe exhibition includes an unprecedented number of artworks by Indigenous and racialized artists from the Art Bank collection presented in Âjagemô exhibition space.

Included in the exhibition is an early painting by Ace entitled Cashing In (2004). The work is from a larger body of work under the moniker Super Phat Nish which is a series of mixed media paintings, textile and assemblage addressing the urban Indigenous experience, through the creation of a popular culture icon. Based on the Anishinaabe mythological trickster Nanabozho, SPN is a self-reflexive personification constantly transforming to engage, critique, and indiginize normative settler imagery. The shape-shifting SPN can be perceived as humorous and ironic, yet simultaneously, there is a subversive subtext that levels cultural critique against dominant narratives. SPN reclaims stereo-typical representations to challenge negative racial portrayals through a repositioning that coalesces with contemporary Indigenous urbanity. ‘Super Phat’ (cool and hip) combines with Nish (cajoling street-smart term for Anishinaabe) to reference belonging and tribalism.

Exhibition curator Amin Alsaden states that “Looking the World in the Face examines cultural representation in the Art Bank collection. It honours the significant contributions Indigenous and racialized artists, who have been historically underrepresented, have made to Canada.

By focusing on faces, the exhibition demonstrates how artists from marginalized communities defy the gaze of the dominant culture by representing themselves, telling their stories, and challenging stereotypes. The works are about more than mere visibility or self-portrayal. They are acts of valiant resistance and generous affirmation by artists who insist on being seen.

From self-portraits to depictions of kin, comics to allegories, and historical figures to contemporary groups, the works convey a range of preoccupations, aspirations, and world views in unvarnished, critical, and creative ways. Amplifying difference and plurality, the representations do not give themselves away easily and lay bare the complexity of historically marginalized communities in Canada. The exhibition proposes that the multiplicity found in these depictions confronts us with the face of the world.

As the Art Bank celebrates its 50th anniversary, the exhibition reflects a collection that includes a broad range of artists and perspectives. The exhibition asks visitors an important and relevant question: how can the arts help Canada look itself, and the world, in the face?”

The artists featured in the exhibition include Norval Morrisseau, Noboru Sawai, Sam Tata, Ranjan Sen, Indira Nair, Qavaroak Tunnillie, Jamelie Hassan, Carl Beam, Sarindar Dhaliwal, Jeff Thomas, Emily Illuitok, Edward Pien, Louise Noguchi, Shelly Bahl, Sherry Farrell Racette, Rebecca Belmore, Skawennati, Christina Peters, Gloria Inugaq Putumiraqtuq, Serapio Ittusardjuat, Barry Ace, Reg Davidson, Pedro Isztin, Paul Robles, Shuvinai Ashoona, Howie Tsui, Sanaz Mazinani, Abdi Osman, Sunil Gupta, Anna Jane McIntyre, Erik Jerezano, Joanne Hui, Raphael Bendahan, Jérôme Havre, Julie Oh, Ramona Ramlochand, Chih-Chien Wang, Meryl McMaster, and Cécilia Bracmort.

Limited works from Super Phat Nish series are still available. Works denoted as Collection of Artist can be acquired by contacting the artist directly.

SPN works from this series are included in the several public collections including the North American Native Museum (Zurich, Switzerland), Crown–Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada (Gatineau, Quebec), Canada Council Art Bank (Ottawa, Ontario), and numerous private collections in Canada and abroad.


National Observer: In Canada Council for the Arts’ new exhibit Looking the World in the Face, the so-called ‘other’ gazes back at you.

Barry Ace is represented by Heffel Galleries (Montreal, Toronto, Vancouver).