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Reservation X: The Power of Place in Aboriginal Contemporary Art

by Gerald McMaster, ed.

You won’t find Reservation X on a map, yet it is a place that aboriginal people must inhabit in the contemporary (colonial) world. It is that changing space between city and reserve, between contemporary and traditional, the space that does not force aboriginal people to define themselves as either-or. Seven of North America’s foremost aboriginal artists – Mary Longman, Nora Naranjo-Morse, Marianne Nicolson, Shelley Niro, Jolene Rickard, Mateo Romero, and C. Maxx Stevens – have contributed installations to the Canadian Museum of Civilization’s own “Reservation X,” an exhibition created to debate that space between, its permeable boundaries, and the resulting intersections of community and identity.

Reservation X: The Power of Place in Aboriginal Contemporary Art is more than an exhibition catalogue. It boasts four strong introductory essays, by artist/curator Gerald McMaster, cultural anthropologist Nancy Marie Mithlo, art historian Charlotte Townsend-Gault, and writer/curator Paul Chaat Smith, each illustrated with archival photographs, colour photographs of the artists’ installations, critical biographies of the artists, and statements by the artists themselves. The essays, written in accessible language, succeed in extending the debate around artistic creation and cultural identity to a readership beyond art gallery and museum walls.

Reservation X revisits some important ongoing debates about contemporary aboriginal art (cultural appropriation, mainstream art-world ideologies about “authenticity”), but maintains a curious silence around artists of mixed race or non-dominant sexuality (other “in betweens”). The book does communicate its central thesis well: that aboriginal communities are not on the fringe – but, for the artists in this exhibition and aboriginal people in general, returning to the centre, a place of connections where revolution and resistance are not only possible but necessary.