Prominent Canadian Art Gallery Is Renaming ‘Discriminatory’ Paintings

REUTERS/Chris Wattie

David Krayden Ottawa Bureau Chief
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The Art Gallery of Ontario is promising to rename paintings with titles that some consider “discriminatory.”

As the National Post reports, the first painting to undergo the cultural reissue is a work by Emily Carr that was formally known as “Indian Church.” It shows a white church on Vancouver Island located on a Native reserve in British Columbia.

Canadian art curator Georgiana Uhlyarik has re-designated the work as “Church at Yuquot Village,” and explains in a sign beside the painting that Carr’s original title reflected the “language of her era” and is just one example of how the gallery intends to scrub “discriminatory” titles from its premises, the Post reports.

Uhlyark told CBC News Tuesday that she was careful to ask permission of the Nuu-chah-nulth First Nation, on whose reserve Carr painted the picture.

“It was the very first phone call that we made,” she told CBC News.

Uhlyark was unable to consult with the artist herself to solicit her feelings on having her work renamed: Carr died in 1945.

“We feel that we are moving something forward, rather than staying in one place and repeating…the hurt of that word,” Uhlyarik said.

The gallery’s decision to airbrush the past is not unique. As the Post notes, Amsterdam’s Rijkmuseum is also in the process of assessing how many of its 220,000 paintings have titles that might offend.

“People are wondering about this idea of: “If we change this title, does that mean that we’re changing the past? And my argument is not at all,” Uhlyark told the Post.

“We’re interested in inviting people into this conversation that we’re having in order for us to move forward, so that we learn from the past and that we figure out what is constructive.”

But not everyone in the fine arts community is excited about the gallery’s crusade.

Jan Ross, curator at Emily Carr House, told the Post that it is noting less than “censorship” when a current gallery decides to change a work of art without the artists’s knowledge or permission.

“That is sacrosanct,” she said. “It robs the artist. … I think it behoves us to examine things within the context of their day.”

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