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Indigenous art and artists from around the world gather at the AGO for aabaakwad 2021

Indigenous art and artists from around the world gather at the AGO for aabaakwad 2021

Image Credit: Lori Blondeau. Lonely Surfer Squaw II, 1997.

Opening in person and online Friday, Dec. 3 with a keynote from Saulteaux artist Robert Houle, annual gathering coincides with new installations by Greg Staats, Alan Michelson and Shelly Niro

TORONTO, ON — First Nations artists, makers and writers from around the world, come together in person and online next month as aabaakwad returns to Toronto, December 3 to 6, 2021. The only Indigenous-led arts gathering of its kind in the world, co-presented by the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) and the Canada Council of the Arts, this year’s event welcomes more than 40 presenters from 24 First Nations and six countries, including Rebecca Belmore, Liisa-Ravna Finbog, Timimie Märak, Alan Michelson, Taqralik Partridge, Duke Redbird, internationally renowned writer Gerald Vizenor, and winner of the 2021 Sobey Art Award Laakkuluk Williamson Bathory, for three days of free conversation and performance.

“Indigenous Art is a global conversation that impacts us all. What First Nations artists bring to the art world – Indigenous philosophies, environmental knowledge systems, and creativity – is needed more than ever,” says Wanda Nanibush, event organizer and curator, Indigenous Art, AGO. “These gatherings create moments for exchange, transformation, and sovereign expression. I am excited to announce that in addition to this gathering, preparations are underway to bring aabaakwad to the 59th Venice Biennale, April 21-25 of 2022.”

A gathering that alternates annually between Toronto and international venues, aabaakwad is now in its fourth year, and returns to the AGO following a successful presentation at the 2020 Sydney Biennale. 2021 marks the first time all sessions will be livestreamed for free. This year’s gathering corresponds with the opening of Robert Houle: Red is Beautiful, a major career retrospective exhibition by the renowned Saulteaux artist, and attendees will also have the opportunity to see several new installations on view in the AGO’s J.S. McLean Centre for Indigenous and Canadian Art. See below for further details.

To see the full schedule and to register for aabaakwad events and proceedings visit All events will be livestreamed in real time for free at

Contemporary Indigenous Art at the AGO
The acquisition and display of contemporary Indigenous artworks has been a priority for the AGO, since the creation of the AGO’s Department of Indigenous & Canadian Art in 2017. Co-led by Wanda Nanibush, Curator, Indigenous Art and Georgiana Uhlyarik, Fredrik S. Eaton Curator, Canadian Art, the department works to put art by Indigenous, Inuit and Canadian artists into conversation across time, to better reflect the Nation to Nation relationship that Canada was built upon.  This winter, in addition to the major special exhibition Robert Houle: Red is Beautiful, which brings together more than 100 artworks from the last 50 years and the ongoing exhibition Shuvinai Ashoona: Beyond the Visible, the AGO’s J.S. McLean Centre for Indigenous & Canadian Art presents the following focus exhibitions and installations, alongside recent acquisitions by artists Lori Blondeau, Maureen Gruben, Natalka Husar, Barry Pottle, Niap, Marianne Nicolson, Shelly Niro, Leah Qumaluk and Travis Shilling.

Greg Staats: in constant return
On view now through May 22, 2022, from Skarù:reˀ / Kanien’kehá:ka, Hodinöhsö:ni’ artist and winner of the Inaugural Indigenous Artist Award from the Toronto Arts Foundation Greg Staats (b. 1963), comes two new constellations of photographs, untitled (1969) and darkling ease (both 2021), and the video feedback installation dark string (2010). “I exist within the process of transforming belonging” says Staats, “by way of selecting more complex images that challenge essential thinking.” Featuring the live projection of a string of purple wampum, an object embodied with the language of mourning, used in condolence ceremonies, dark string activates and emphasizes the restorative nature of the good mind, a central tenant of the Hodinöhsö:ni’ worldview.

Alan Michelson: Theatrum Orbis Terrarum (Theatre of the World)
Opening on Dec. 3, and on view for a year, Theatrum Orbis Terrarum (Theatre of the World), (2019) is a four channel video installation projected sequentially onto four large white globes. Layering images and sounds from colonial history and Indigenous resistance movements, the four videos chart a new atlas of the Americas, one that marks Indigenous presence within 500 years of colonial history.  First exhibited at the Venice Biennale in 2019, this is the first artwork by Alan Michelson (b. 1953), a New York based artist, writer, curator and Mohawk member of the Six Nations of the Grand River, to enter the AGO Collection.

Bill Nasogaluak
Opening Dec. 18, this focus exhibition features more than 15 sculptures by Inuit artist and educator Bill Nasogaluak from the Samuel and Esther Sarick Collection at the AGO. Nasogaluak was born in Tuktoyaktuk, Northwest Territories, in 1953 and that land informs his practice. Revealing a deep respect for Inuit spirituality, these works illustrate Inuvialuit culture and grapple with contemporary concerns, including climate change and suicide.

For more information about these and other upcoming exhibitions visit Admission to the AGO is free for all Indigenous Peoples and visitors aged 25 and under, with the advance booking of a timed-entry ticket. Visitors aged 12 and over will need to show proof of vaccination and ID upon entry. For more information about how to plan your visit and the AGO’s health and safety measures, visit

aabaakwad (it clears after a storm) is an annual Indigenous-led conversation on Indigenous art by those who create, curate and write about it. A gathering that alternates annually between Toronto and international venues, aabaakwad showcases dynamic dialogue examining themes, materials and experiences in Indigenous art practice globally. Founded in 2018, aabaakwad is Indigenous-led and artist-centred, and its program is guided by an international curatorial committee, whose members include Brook Andrew (Wiradjuri, Australia), Heather Igloliorte (Inuk, Nunatsiavut, Canada), Elias Yamani Ismail (Orang Asal, Malaysia), Alan Michelson (Mohawk, USA), Wanda Nanibush (Anishinaabe, Canada), Jolene Rickard (Tuscarora, USA) and Megan Temati-Quenell (Maori, New Zealand/Aotearoa).

The Canada Council for the Arts is Canada’s public arts funder, with a mandate to foster and promote the study and enjoyment of, and the production of works in, the arts. The Council champions and invests in artistic excellence through a broad range of grants, services, prizes and payments to professional Canadian artists and arts organizations. Its work ensures that excellent, vibrant and diverse art and literature engages Canadians, enriches their communities and reaches markets around the world. The Council also raises public awareness and appreciation of the arts through its communications, research and arts promotion activities. It is responsible for the Canadian Commission for UNESCO, which promotes the values and programs of UNESCO in Canada to contribute to a more peaceful, equitable and sustainable future. The Canada Council Art Bank operates art rental programs and helps further public engagement with contemporary arts.

Located in Toronto, the Art Gallery of Ontario is one of the largest art museums in North America, attracting approximately one million visitors annually. The AGO Collection of more than 120,000 works of art ranges from cutting-edge contemporary art to significant works by Indigenous and Canadian artists and European masterpieces. The AGO presents wide-ranging exhibitions and programs, including solo exhibitions and acquisitions by diverse and underrepresented artists from around the world. In 2019, the AGO launched a bold new initiative designed to make the museum even more welcoming and accessible with the introduction of free admission for anyone 25 years and under and a $35 annual pass. Visit to learn more.

The AGO is funded in part by the Ontario Ministry of Heritage, Sport, Tourism and Culture Industries. Additional operating support is received from the City of Toronto, the Canada Council for the Arts and generous contributions from AGO Members, donors and private-sector partners.

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MUSKRAT Magazine

MUSKRAT is an on-line Indigenous arts, culture magazine that honours the connection between humans and our traditional ecological knowledge by exhibiting original works and critical commentary. MUSKRAT embraces both rural and urban settings and uses media arts, the Internet, and wireless technology to investigate and disseminate traditional knowledges in ways that inspire their reclamation.

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