Robert Houle

Robert Houle

Robert Houle

Presenting as part of the session: Uncovering the City - Saturday, November 6 at 1:00 pm

Robert Houle was born in St. Boniface, Manitoba and currently lives and works in Toronto.  Houle is a contemporary Anishnabe artist who has played a significant role in retaining and defining First Nations identity in Canada. He draws on Western art conventions to tackle lingering aspects of European colonization and its postcolonial aftermath.  Relying on the objectivity of modernity and the subjectivity of postmodernity he brings aboriginal history into his work through the interrogation of text and photographic documents from the dominant society.  He studied art history at the University of Manitoba, art education at McGill University and painting and drawing at the International Summer Academy of Fine Arts in Salzburg, Austria.  Houle has been exhibiting since the early 1970’s.  His most recent exhibition, the multi-media installation Paris/Ojibwa, is currently on view at the Canadian Cultural Centre in Paris.  Among his many solo exhibitions are Lost Tribes, at Hood College, Maryland; Sovereignty over Subjectivity, at the Winnipeg Art Gallery; Palisade, at the Carleton University Art Gallery, Ottawa; and Anishnabe Walker Court, an intervention at the Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto.  He has also participated in several important international group exhibitions, including Recent Generations: Native American Art from 1950 to 1987, at the Heard Museum, Phoenix; Traveling Theory, at the Jordan National Gallery, Amman, Jordan; Notions of Conflict, at the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam; Real Fictions: Four Canadian Artists, at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney, Australia; Tout le temps/Every Time, at the Montreal Biennale 2000 and We Come in Peace...: Histories of the Americas, at the Musée d’art Contemporain de Montréal.  

Houle was curator of contemporary aboriginal art at the Canadian Museum of Civilization from 1977 to 1981 and has curated or co-curated groundbreaking exhibitions such as New Work by a New Generation, in connection with the World Assembly of First Nations at the Norman Mackenzie Art Gallery in Regina in 1982, and Land Spirit Power: First Nations at the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa during the Columbus Quincentennial.  

As a writer, Houle has penned many essays and monographs on aboriginal art and contemporary First Nations and Native American artists.  He also taught native studies at the Ontario College of Art and Design in Toronto for fifteen years mentoring a new generation of artists and curators.  Houle's considerable influence as an artist, curator, writer, educator and cultural theorist has led to his being awarded the Janet Braide Memorial Award for Excellence in Canadian Art History in 1993; the 2001 Toronto Arts Award for the Visual Arts; the Eiteljorg Fellowship in 2003; membership in the Royal Canadian Academy; distinguished Alumnus, University of Manitoba and the Canada Council International Residency Program for the Visual Arts in Paris.  Additionally, Houle has served on various boards and advisory committees including those of The Art Gallery of Ontario, The Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art, The Aboriginal Curatorial Collective, A Space, The Power Plant and the Native Canadian Centre of Toronto. 

Currently, he lectures on the subject of indigenous abstraction and is working on a group of portraits based on research done over the last three years in Paris, as well as continuing to work on drawings based on memory from his childhood experience of forced attendance at residential school on his reserve, Sandy Bay.  He plans to publish a book based on his collected writings and thoughts on contemporary aboriginal art.


Description of Robert Houle's talk:

My concept of living in a city began right here in Winnipeg during the early sixties while attending high school and university and continued in Montreal while, once again, attending university, followed by Ottawa in the late seventies working at a museum and now Toronto where I currently live and paint.  Urban living for me is a complex multiplicity of intersections of identity, history, politics, economics, globalization and personal involvement, a contemporary frenzy ever fed by a cyber-connected communication network feeding radicalism both benign and malevolent, expanding and changing with distinct dietary needs and the ensuing ecological dimensions. Personally, as an Anishnabe artist, I witness daily, the social and democratic upheavals wrenching traditional societies with the First Nations seemingly trapped by identity in a ravenous gaze of pending disappearance which seems to persist to this day despite the fact that ironically, we have one of the fastest growing urban populations.

Cities are a shared space and time involving people from everywhere, dealing with day to day issues including labour disruptions, economic, political, religious and human rights and other social issues.  A place where the lack of public transportation can cripple a city, a viral outbreak can be incredibly isolating and power failures can be surprisingly humanizing.

I will be speaking about works that were either commissioned by a city such as the York Street Tramway and the cantilevered walkway at the foot of Yonge Street in Toronto or a public institution such as Anishnabe Walker Court at the Art Gallery of Toronto; Morning Star at the Manitoba Legislature, These Apaches are not Helicopters at the Winnipeg Train Station and Gambling Sticks at the Forks, the confluence of the Red and Assiniboine Rivers, all commissioned by Shirley Madill for the Winnipeg Art Gallery.  I will also speak about two works that confront the invisibility of aboriginal people in the urban context, Postscript in Saskatoon and Anishnabe in Toronto.

I will conclude with Paris/Ojibwa, an installation commemorating a series of performances in 1845 by a traveling troupe of Mississaugas and their transatlantic return home from Paris through the magic of art, and the spiritual aspect of memory.

Go Back