The knock on Sakahan – Algonquin for “to light a fire” – will be, of course, that it ghettoizes “aboriginal” or “native” or, as the National Gallery of Canada prefers, “indigenous art.”
If so, it’s a mighty capacious ghetto, not just for Sakahan’s stature as the biggest single exhibition in the NGC’s 130-year history (more than 150 works! 80-plus artists!) but for its scope (art from 16 countries on six continents, including India, Taiwan, Brazil and Mexico) and, most importantly, the astonishing variety of art presented, most of it made in the past 10 years.
This isn’t to say Sakahan stints on depictions of the myriad, often cruel legacies of the heritage that has shaped most indigenous societies since their initial contact with European colonizers.
For that, look no further than Nadia Myre’s interpretation, in beads of bloody red and white, of the first five chapters of Canada’s Indian Act.