|Written by An Nguyen|
|Wednesday, 08 April 2009 19:00|
A massive chandelier hangs from the ballroom ceiling in Rideau Hall, casting a soft light on the late Norval Morriseau’s Androgyny. The Aboriginal painting displays a thriving and bountiful world in which all diverse elements are in perfect balance. Ironically, a “perfect balance” is how I’d describe this year’s Governor General’s Awards in Visual and Media Arts (GGAVMA) ceremony. It was an evening celebrating the achievements of some of the most unforgettable leaders in the arts world fiercely paving the future for Canadian art. Yet the socially exclusive air often associated with high culture was broken down by the humbleness and genuine passion exuded by the laureates. This ability to communicate with Canadians through their artwork and/or artistic advocacy has set in motion the many diverse elements that make this year’s recipients of the GGAVMA awards so deserving.
On March 25, as an editor for (Cult)ure, I was invited to the awards ceremony sponsored by the Canada Council for the Arts. The Canada Council funds and administers the awards, and this year marked the awards’ 10th anniversary. The evening began with Their Excellencies Michaëlle Jean and Jean-Daniel Lafond walking into the ballroom, followed by a procession of this year’s winners. A small jazz band marked the joyous occasion with an upbeat rendition of the “Teddy Bear’s Picnic.” As they made their way towards the front of the room, Morriseau’s painting quickly became the beckoning backdrop for the evening’s ceremony.
The Governor General introduced the ceremony with inspiring remarks about the importance of art in Canada, and how this year’s winners have progressively piqued our imagination, while His Excellency Jean-Daniel Lafond commented on the great importance of celebrating the arts and the calibre of talent found in the room.
One by one, those who nominated the winners approached the podium to proudly introduce the laureates. They were students, colleagues, or peers who were inspired by this year’s finalists.
This year’s Governor General’s Awards in Visual Arts and Media Arts were presented to: John Greer (sculptor from Nova Scotia); Nobuo Kubota (Toronto musician and sculptor); Rita McKeough (Calgary-based installation and performance artist); Robert Morin (video artist from Montreal); Raymond Moriyama (Toronto architect); Gordon Smith (90 year-old Vancouver painter); Kevin Lockau (glass artist from Bancroft, Ontario, recipient of the Saidye Bronfman Award for fine crafts); as well as Kim Ondaatje and Tony Urquhart, recognized jointly for their Outstanding Contribution on behalf of Canadian Artists’ Representation/Le front des artistes canadiens (CARFAC).
Each of the winners received $25,000 and are currently featured in an exhibition at the National Gallery of Canada until June 21, 2009. They were also presented with a print by Kenojuak Ashevak, who became the first Inuit artist to win a Governor General’s Award last year.
One of the most memorable moments of the night were the speeches delivered by the laureates themselves. Raymond Moriyama got up to the podium to sincerely thank, among other people, his wife for being such a great supporter of his work. His endearing statement that his “wife is the one who should be receiving this award” also spoke of his enduring love for art, rooted in a supportive network that made it all possible. Even as a child Moriyama found the “perfect balance” in discovering his first love and adamantly knowing that he wanted to be an architect. Today he’s happily married to his first love and is a world class architect who has designed the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa, the Bata Shoe Museum in Toronto, and the Canadian Embassy in Tokyo.
Nobuo Kuboto’s speech also hit upon the importance of support. In his acceptance speech Kuboto thanked the Canada Council for the Arts, as well as the Ontario Arts Council for their financial support. The grants allowed him to sustain his life as an artist for over 40 years, exploring myriad of artistic forms -- especially music and the improvisational spirit of his installations. In thanking the artistic institutions, he stated that he was “truly free from the restraints of commercial interests” to create what he wanted. For this opportunity he was truly rewarded as an artist.
Rita McKeough’s speech spoke of the “subversive power of silence and how dialogue and listening are politically and socially the most powerful tools for change.” McKeough demonstrates this by talking about her time as a punk drummer and her continuous journey of artistic expression through the visual arts field. In approaching art with a fearless energy, McKeough has gone on to be an engaging mentor for up-and-coming artists.
Tony Urquhart and Kim Ondaatje fought for the rights for artists within Canada to ensure that artists were paid for their work and showcased in museums. It started out as a grassroots movement, which later gained momentum in other countries. Soon enough CARFAC was formed. Their work has continued to represent a fierce passion for artist advocacy in Canada. Their honest speeches reminded the room about the sacred beauty and value placed on Canadian art.
As the ceremony ended Their Excellencies and the winners left the room to meet up with those attending the celebration. Meeting some of this year's winners during the dinner reception was a humbling experience. Their life and work defines and continuously searches for greater meaning and understanding in Canadian culture. This year's winners not only thrive in a bountiful world as depicted in Morriseau's work, but they represent the diverse elements which stir our imagination.
For more information on this year's winners, check out the following websites:
Tags: art, awards, gordon smith, governor general, john greer, kevin lockau, kim ondaatje, nobuo kubota, norval morriseau, raymond moriyama, rideau hall, rita mckeough, robert morin, tony urquhart