New commission by Robert Houle added to collection
Anishnaabe artist, Robert Houle, a member of the Sandy Bay First Nation, near Winnipeg, Manitoba, recently attended the opening of the Confederation Centre Art Gallery’s permanent collection exhibition, Re: Collection, to make introductory remarks and present a public talk on his 2017 painting, O-ween du muh waun (We were Told).
Commissioned by Confederation Centre Art Gallery (CCAG) to mark the 150th anniversary of Canadian Confederation, Houle’s oil on canvas triptych is a consideration of the long First Nation’s presence in this land, and the idea of history painting.
Houle’s work is an addition to the Gallery’s collection and specifically to the Confederation Murals Series, which includes works by Jean Paul Lemieux, John Fox, and Jack Shadbolt, commissioned in 1964, and by Jane Ash Poitras, Yvon Gallant, and Wanda Koop commissioned in the 1990s.
Houle’s new painting is a further elaboration on his 1992 work, Kanata (collection of the National Gallery of Canada), in which he appropriates and reimagines the composition of Benjamin West’s 1770 painting, The Death of General Wolfe. West’s painting mythologized the battlefield death of the British general who led his troops to victory in the 1759 Battle of Quebec. Houle drew all the figures in West’s composition in conté, reserving colour for only the indigenous figure in the foreground.
In his new work, O-ween du muh waun (We were Told) Houle focuses on this same Delaware warrior figure, seated on the Plains of Abraham, and facing east. He eliminates all the other figures from West’s composition. “The (Canada) 150 idea was not an issue for me, but rather a correction to clarify that my sense of country dates back further than 1867,” Houle explains. “Our friendship and numbered treaties are also preceded by the presence of our ancestors going back millennia.”
Houle was born in St. Boniface, Manitoba, in 1947 and currently resides in Toronto. He is widely-acclaimed for bridging indigenous history and contemporary art. In 2015 he received the Governor General’s Award in Visual and Media Art.