“The seven artists of the PNIAI came together in order to collectively fight for the inclusion of their work within the Canadian mainstream and the contemporary art canon. Disenchanted with the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development’s marketing and promotion strategies, they fought against exclusionary practices which treated their work as a type of handicraft, a categorization which prevented it from being shown in mainstream galleries and museums. The forward thinking of these pivotal artists led to the development and acceptance of an Indigenous art discourse and the recognition of Indigenous artists as a vital part of Canada’s past, present and future identity. Reaching across cultural boundaries, their lasting artistic merit continues to be a source of inspiration for generations to come. This exhibition’s national tour offered audiences from across Canada an unparalleled opportunity to appreciate and engage with the work by one of Canada’s most important early artist alliances—the Professional Native Indian Artists Incorporated (PNIAI).
This Group of Seven was a ground-breaking cultural and political entity that self-organized to demand recognition as professional, contemporary artists, to challenge old constructs, and to stimulate a new way of thinking about contemporary First Nations people, their lives and art. Gathering informally at first in the early 1970s, Jackson Beardy (1944-1984), Eddy Cobiness (1933-1996), Alex Janvier (b. 1935), Norval Morrisseau (1932-2007), Daphne Odjig (b. 1919), Carl Ray (1942-1978) and Joseph Sanchez (b. 1948) formed this influential and historical group. Since their formation, the PNIAI have often been wryly referred to as the “Indian Group of Seven.”
Drawing on both private and public collections, the exhibition brought together 120 works, including those featured in formative exhibitions of the Group as well as a number of recently uncovered masterworks of the period that have not been publicly accessible. Narratives collected from members of the group and their contemporaries further informed the exhibition through didactic materials, catalogue text and audiovisual materials. While the exhibit both recorded and celebrated this history, the exhibition also investigated their rich legacy, and demonstrated how their impact continues to resonate in relation to Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal contemporary art practices.”
Organized by the MacKenzie Art Gallery. This project has been made possible through a contribution from the Museums Assistance Program, Department of Canadian Heritage. The MacKenzie receives ongoing support from the Canada Council for the Arts, the Saskatchewan Arts Board, SaskCulture, the City of Regina, and the University of Regina. Curated by Michelle LaVallee