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Michael Fernandes (b.1944)

Michael Fernandes

Michael Fernandes, Series of 5, 1978
Graphite and latex on Masonite, on wooden shelf, 64 x 330.5 x 18 cm
Art Gallery of Nova Scotia, Halifax

Known for works that resist categorization, that sparkle with subversive wit, that raise issues of race, gender, and power, and that question any and all orthodoxies that come in his path, Michael Fernandes has been one of the most exhibited artists from Halifax since the early 1970s. He can accurately be described as an “artist’s artist”: Fernandes has never achieved wide public recognition, but he has been one of the most critically acclaimed figures from his adopted city, regionally, nationally, and internationally.


Fernandes, of Afro-Hispanic heritage, was born in Trinidad in 1944 and emigrated to Canada in 1963 to study art at the school of the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. In 1973 he moved to Halifax to begin teaching at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, where he still is an instructor. Fernandes is an artist who cannot be categorized by genre. Trained as a painter, he works in performance, video, sculpture, installation, and drawing, as well as creating text-based works. As Barbara Sternberg (b.1945) has written, “anything and everything can enter his work.  He often includes the audience in his work, whether through input such as writing on walls or sharing stories, or through having visitors physically activate the art on view. In fact, the relation between art and audience remains the conceptual underpinning of his work.


Fernandes has been exhibiting across Canada since the early 1970s, including major solo exhibitions at The Power Plant (1990) and at the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia (2004). His work has been shown in large group exhibitions, including 2012 to 2013’s Oh, Canada at MASS MoCA in North Adams, Massachusetts, and in the nationally touring Traffic: Conceptual Art in Canada 1965–1980. Fernandes has been involved with Eyelevel Gallery in Halifax since its evolution from Inventions Gallery (founded 1972) in 1974, and he has worked with numerous artist-run collectives in the city, including OO Gallery and the Khyber Arts Centre. In 2020 he received a Governor General’s Award in Visual and Media Arts.


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