The Collection – First Nations Art

The McMichael Canadian Art Collection has always recognized the important contributions made to Canada’s artistic and cultural heritage by First Nations artists. Over the years, the McMichael’s permanent collection of First Nations art has expanded significantly in both depth and scope.

A Dedication to Contemporary First Nations Art

First Nations art encompasses many forms – including the traditional arts, ceremonial or religious arts, utilitarian arts, art produced for the tourist market, as well as the contemporary or fine arts. The McMichael continues to explore current trends and recent developments in First Nations art, and focuses its collecting activities on the contemporary rather than traditional art.

Various Concerns of the Artist by Carl Beam
Six pairs of white high-heeled shoes arranged in a circle on a light grey circular base.
stylized painting in a colourful palette showing human and animal forms

From the Late Twentieth Century to Today

In the latter half of the twentieth century, artists such as Joseph Jacobs, Alex Janvier, Norval Morrisseau, Daphne Odjig, Carl Ray, Allen Sapp and Bill Reid ushered in a new contemporary art movement.

Creating work in a variety of styles and techniques, they borrowed elements from western tradition such as cubism and abstract expressionism. For inspiration, many also looked to their roots, and the legends, spiritual beliefs, traditional arts and narrative or genre art for which Canada’s First Nations peoples are known. Artists such as Carl Beam, Gerald McMaster and Jane Ash Poitras often used their works to address issues of cultural identity, and to provide social and political commentary on issues of the day.

During this time, there was also a renaissance of traditional art and image making – as evidenced in the work of many artists of the Northwest Coast, and in the development of the Woodland style of painting. In recent years there have been exciting developments in the field of contemporary First Nations art – with artists making more use of photography, mixed media, installations, performance art and assemblage. By incorporating new materials and technology into their work, as well as past and present elements of First Nations culture, Canada’s contemporary First Nations artists continue to reflect and shape their histories, their communities and their lives.