Art Gallery of Ontario honours Daphne Odjig

The late Daphne-Odjig of Wikwemikong was recently celebrated in an Art Gallery of Ontario evening entitled ‘In Remebrance.’ photo by Yuri Akuney, Digitial Perfections

TORONTO—One of Canada’s most celebrated Anishinaabe painters and printmakers, the late Daphne Odjig (1919-2016), originally of Wikwemikong but who spent most of her later life in British Columbia, was celebrated in an Art Gallery of Ontario AGO evening entitled ‘In Remembrance’ and M’Chigeeng Artist and Ojibwe Cultural Foundation Art Director Anong Beam was one of the invited speakers at the Wednesday, January 18 event held at the AGO’s Baillie Court.

“It was amazing,” said Ms. Beam of the experience. “It was my first time speaking to such a luminous audience in the front row.” That first row contained her fellow speakers, Wanda Nanibush, the AGO’s first curator of indigenous art; Greg Hill, Audain senior curator and head of the Department of Indigenous Art at the National Gallery of Canada; Andrew Hunter, Fredrik S. Eaton curator, Canadian Art, at the AGO; and Ms. Odjig’s son from British Columbia. Internationally acclaimed hoop dancer Lisa Odjig performed during the opening ceremonies.

Ms. Beam said that she spoke on the artist’s “legacy as an indigenous contemporary artist in Canada.”

“I, we, all have her as an example,” she said. “There were no such examples when she was young. Her strength and courage to do something that no one previous to her had done.”

Ms. Odjig herself noted that she saw her “paintings as a celebration of life. My sub-conscious mind may well dictate some content and I’m content to leave it at that. I am uncomfortable with words—my paintings are perhaps my most honest and legitimate statement.”

“I consider Daphne to be the grandmother of contemporary indigenous art, especially for us Anishinaabe,” agreed Ms. Nanibush, the AGO’s assistant curator of Canadian and Indigenous art in a statement. “She kicked in doors for us all…was instrumental in helping other artists blossom too.”

Over the course of her long and productive life, Ms. Odjig established herself as one of Canada’s most celebrated First Nations painters and printmakers—so much so that she is frequently referenced to as the grandmother of First Nations art and is a member of esteemed standing in the Indigenous Group of Seven.

Ms. Odjig was of Odawa, Potawatomi and English heritage and born September 11, 1919 on Wikwemikong Unceded Reserve.

The AGO noted that the artist first learned about art-making from her grandfather, Jonas Odjig, a tombstone carver who taught her to draw and paint. Her work is now featured in private and public collections across Canada.

The AGO’s ‘In Remembrance’ included a screening of the 2008 documentary ‘The Life and Work of Daphne Odjig.’

A focal point for the memorial at the AGO was the gallery’s recent acquisition a new Odjig painting from 1986 for their collection, ‘Odjig Family; Father, Mother, Grandfather, Stanley, Daphne, Donald, Winnie, Xmas, Dec 25th,’ in which the artist portrayed her family. The painting was unveiled and will continue to be displayed following the ceremonies.