Eight modern-looking fire pits line the centre of the brightly lit Gallery 101. They look brand new and freshly painted in a shiny black – like they were purchased for a backyard campfire rather than an exhibit – but their existence speaks to a faded heritage. They’re an ode to the fire pits of the indigenous peoples of Canada and an installation in Dylan Miner’s newest exhibition Prophecies.
“The work in this show is metaphorical in dealing with indigenous issues and the teachings of the Elders and it uses those teachings to spark aesthetic interactions,” Miner said.
Miner, who is Métis, grew up in Michigan and is a printmaker by trade.
“A lot of the work I make has to do with indigenous history and indigenous struggles from a hemispheric perspective,” he said.
This exhibition, however, moved away from Miner’s background as a printmaker and utilized modern day objects, like the fire pits, as a tongue-in-cheek way of tackling the colonial history still present in the lives of indigenous peoples in the Americas.
“A show like this looks at Aboriginal prophecies as a way of thinking about the stories we’ve had and the struggles we’ve had throughout the past 500 plus years,” he explained.
Miner’s printmaking skill was not forgotten in his cavalcade of modern and historical installations. Take his “Westward Ho” piece for example – a throwback to the similarly named Emmanuel Leutze painting.
It includes a canoe propped up on cinder blocks with a definitive bend right in the middle. Behind the canoe are seven paddles, each with the head carved as a map. The paddle heads – an intricate allusion to the stages of Ojibwa migration across the Great Lakes – sharply contrast the beaten-up canoe.
“It references traditional transportation, sustainable transportation and the way that that’s been severed and smashed and now sits in our yard on cinder blocks,” Miner said.
Curator Laura Margita said she wanted to showcase Miner’s Prophecies because of the anti-colonial sentiments that drive his work.
“It adds to a general conversation that Gallery 101 is inviting the Ottawa audience to take part in, which is ‘What’s up with indigenous art? What’s up with identity politics in Canada?’ but in a fun and interesting way,” she said.
“I’m waiting for people to walk into the gallery and say ‘I thought this was an art gallery,’ because usually people have this preconception that there’s supposed to be paintings or something pretty to look at. Well, art is not necessarily about pretty things,” said Georgia Mathewson a gallery-goer and employee.
Before the exhibit began to wind down for the night, Miner took the first of the eight fire pits and lit it, tarnishing its new black coat of paint. It blazed for a moment then settled into a small flame.
“There are all of these different moments where art can spark social change or can be the change itself. Do we know, in the moment if the art has been successful? No. That’s something we have to figure out later in time,” Miner said.