Making Connections at the Galleries

We often forget to show up. But last weekend we made the effort (it’s really not that hard), and showed up at four exhibitions around town that turned out to be complementary to one another. Some of the exhibits close in the next few days (showing up “just in time” is a special category), so bear that in mind.

Refuge Canada at the Canadian Museum of Immigration

If you are able to do just one thing, then the Refuge Canada exhibit should be it. And be snappy, because the show ends on November 11.

This intelligent exhibit will help you understand what makes a person into a refugee and the special challenges they must overcome. Canada’s response to refugees continues to evolve, and what we felt at moments in the past does not always stand the test of time. Our apologies are improving though.

A couple of memories from the exhibit:

  • The discussion of fear. A refugee’s fear that bad things will happen. Not the ginned-up fear that many politicians choose to promote these days.

  • Stepping inside one of the UNHCR tents that appear in so many images of refugee camps.

This recent review will give you a better understanding of the visitor experience.

Shame and Prejudice: A Story of Resilience at the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia

The artist Kent Monkman uses “his gender fluid, time travelling alter-ego, Miss Chief Eagle Testickle” to guide visitors through Canada’s history. The journey is sometimes hilarious and often heart breaking. Monkman mixes historic artifacts from museum collections with his monumental paintings and installations.

In a painting called “Daddies,” the Fathers of Confederation are joined at the table by Miss Chief.

In “The Scream”, priests, nuns and Mounties separate children from their families. Sounds familiar.

This exhibit is on display until December 16, but you should make an effort to see a monumental (7.5 m by 3.5 m) painting by Monkman that is only up until November 11. “Miss Chief’s Wet Dream” has been given to the gallery by the Donald R. Sobey Foundation, and it is huge in every sense.

From your Art History class you will recognize that the painting references “The Raft of the Medusa” (1818-19) by Théodore Géricault. Here a raft of suffering Europeans encounters a canoe full of First Nations folks, who may not be their saviours.

I don’t know how they get the huge painting in and out of the gallery.

There are lots of details to unpack in the painting; for example, Queen Victoria and a red bearded Viking.

Nanabozho’s Sisters at the Dalhousie University Art Gallery

I found this exhibit of works by indigenous women artists was a useful companion to the Monkman show. The Dal gallery says “these works use the transformative power of humour to undermine, and create alternatives to, colonialist stereotypes, and to honour and empower Indigenous women’s bodies—in all their lived glory.”

This show is on until November 25. With all the anxiety around Cornwallis and settler culture these gallery exhibits add helpful voices to the conversation.

Unpacking the Living Room at the Mount St Vincent Art Gallery

“This exhibition explores the many dynamics of domestic environments by staging a radically re-imagined living room in the gallery space.” And that’s exactly what you are offered, a sprawling living room filled with little objects to discover and ponder. It’s a great device because many of us enjoy looking at other peoples stuff and maybe making judgments.

Near the beginning of the Refuge Canada exhibit there are two simulations of a living room. The first is a comfortable space, like a tiny version of the room at the Mount Gallery. Then you turn a corner and you see the same room in disarray, after some catastrophe, maybe an earthquake or perhaps it has been hit by a tank shell. The rooms bring home the fragility of our “comfort zone” and it feels like a personal insult we can all understand.


In Paris last month, we happened upon the grave of Théodore Géricault in Père Lachaise Cemetery. The artist lounged on top of his tomb, above a bronze version of the “Wreck of the Medusa.” Small world.

About the author

Stephen Archibald

It’s Stephen Archibald doing the noticing. I’m a huge fan of Nova Scotia’s material culture and cultural landscapes. Twitter (@Cove17 ) made me realize I could share what attracted my attention (perfect for my very short attention) and I’m gratified when folks enjoy my content. Pleased to meet you on the internet.