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On the Artful Path: Contemporary Art in the Multiversity Galleries

What kind of gaze can a museum cultivate? While MOA’s Multiversity Galleries displays thousands of historical ethnographic objects from around the world, visitors may be surprised to discover that this space is also home to an impressive and growing collection of works by contemporary artists. Carefully curated to stand in relation to the historical belongings on display, these works draw on traditional as well as new imagery, methods and materials to demonstrate the continuity of cultural practices or to comment on contested histories and current concerns.

As Karen Duffek, MOA’s Curator of Contemporary Visual Arts and Pacific Northwest, says, “Contemporary works help to interrupt the space. Individual artists not only point attention to the diverse ways in which they may connect to and reclaim their cultural heritage, but also make visible the dynamism of art- and culture-making.” The acquisition of contemporary art at MOA speaks to the role of museums as active sites of inquiry, investigation and research, critically subverting narrow understandings of anthropological collections as static and unchanging. Experience a different kind of engagement with MOA’s collections by delving further into one of contemporary artworks.

Be a Good Girl, by Tania Willard (2013)

MOA collection 3087/1. Photo by Kyla Bailey.

Displayed in a section of the Multiversity Galleries devoted to Northwest Coast basketry—a form historically understood as “women’s work”—this woodblock print critically addresses the different forms of gendered labour symptomatic of Canada’s colonial history. Depicting women engaging in prayer and domestic tasks, Willard references the labour programs designed by the Indian residential school system during the 1950s to turn young Indigenous women into productive wives and workers. Printed in black ink on a gold surface, the physically taxing process of printmaking can also be interpreted as a doubling of this labour, expanding ideas around working bodies to include that of the artist.

Find me: Case 30