Toronto is a great place to discover the artistic traditions of Canada’s First Nations and to view Indigenous art. Here are a few places to begin your journey.
The AGO has one of the most important collections of indigenous art in the world, with representation from North American First nations, Inuit and Métis artists including Haida master carver Charles Edenshaw and contemporary Mohawk artist Shelley Niro, as well as global Indigenous art from Africa and Australia. The gallery houses an important collection of Inuit artwork that includes 2,800 sculptures, 1,300 prints, 700 drawings, and a selection of wall hangings. One of the most popular works on display is Manasie Akpaliapik’s large whalebone, ivory, stone, antler, baleen and horn sculpture, Respecting the Circle, a must-see for enthusiasts of native Canadian artwork.
This small but brilliantly curated gallery on Dundas West across from the AGO provides a look inside a number of different Indigenous artistic traditions and is a great place to discover First Nations artwork. The friendly and knowledgeable gallery owners provide copious information about the pieces, which include works from acclaimed artists such as Norval Morrisseau and Charles Edenshaw. Decorative, ceremonial and ritual pieces are also on display. Whether you are newly discovering Indigenous art or are an experienced collector, expect an uplifting and informative visit.
Gallery Indigena, which has locations in Stratford and Toronto as well as on Granville Island in Vancouver, specializes in Inuit sculpture and prints, Iroquois sculpture and paintings, and northwest coast masks and wood art, with more than 500 pieces on display. The gallery began as a family business in the early 1970s and has grown to become one of the most important destinations for indigenous art in the city. Gallery artists include Maxine Noel, Michael Robinson, Alfred Villeneuve, Lee Claremont, Susan Point, Jay Brabant, Gene Brabant, Tony Hunt Jr., Tom Patterson, Matthew Baker, Rande Cook, Glen Rabena, Germaine Arnaktauyok, Pudlo Pudlat, Kenojuak Ashevak, Kananginak Pootoogook, Oviloo Tunnillie, Manasie Akpaliapik, Pitseolak Niviaksi, Toonoo Sharky, Jonasie Faber, Ashevak Tunnillie, Barnabus Arnnasungaaq, Irene Klar, Daniel Hill, Roy Henry, Ben Henry and Benjamin Thomas.
Indigenous Artists at Nuit Blanche 2019
This year’s Nuit Blanche, the all-night art party that will light up the streets of Toronto on October 5th, includes strong representation from Indigenous artists. One of the most-awaited works of the evening is Bekah Brown’s multimedia installation Chasing Red, a dynamic depiction of the Northern Lights housed in the CF Eaton Centre bridge. The piece is intended to honour several Indigenous cultures and represent the different meanings of the Northern Lights within them. In Anishinaabe culture, the Northern Lights are a manifestation of Spirit Moon – the first moon of the year – and represent a time of reflection. In Dene culture, red in the Northern Lights indicates a violent death. Chasing Red will consist mainly of green lighting with red breaking through from time to time to acknowledge and pay respect to missing and murdered Indigenous women.
These collections are important resources for Indigenous history and a testament to the major role Indigenous art plays the nation’s dynamic contemporary art scene.