From his experience growing up on the Sandy Bay reserve in Manitoba to his studies, exhibitions, curatorial work, and residencies, Saulteaux First Nations Canadian artist Robert Houle has had a meaningful influence on the field of contemporary art and Indigenous culture. Houle’s resignation from his position as curator of contemporary Indian art at the Canadian Museum of Civilization (now the Canadian Museum of History) in 1980, proved to be a significant marker in the artist’s career, setting the path towards a body of remarkable artistic production. With an emotional desire to free ceremonial objects from relegation to anthropological artifacts, Houle made a promise to devote the rest of his art career to changing perspectives on what constitutes contemporary Indigenous art through his artistic and curatorial practice.
“Houle reconciles and synthesizes contemporary art trends and Indigenous traditions, encouraging a renewed vision of the world that regains the missing caverns of First Nations cultural memory. His work exposes issues affecting Indigenous peoples including land rights, fighting for the rights of Indigenous art and artists, and decolonizing the museum and the self.”Shirley Madill
Robert Houle: Life & Work reveals how Houle’s work has impacted First Nations art and opened critical discussion and views on political and cultural issues surrounding First Nations peoples, including defining Indigenous identity, portraying the impact of colonialism, responding to crises such as Oka, and addressing land claims and residential schools. Robert Houle has played an important role in bridging the gap between contemporary First Nations artists and the broader Canadian art scene through his writing and involvement in early, important high-profile exhibitions such as Land, Spirit, Power: First Nations at the National Gallery of Canada in 1992. This book also explores the artist’s site-specific and public arts projects and residencies, showing the impact on and import of the artist’s work in Canadian art.
Shirley Madill is executive director of the Kitchener-Waterloo Art Gallery. Prior she was director/curator, Rodman Hall Art Centre; CEO, Art Gallery of Greater Victoria; chief curator/director of programming and vice-president, Art Gallery of Hamilton; and curator of contemporary art and photography, Winnipeg Art Gallery.
Banner: Robert Houle, Shaman Dream in Colour, 2015, oil on canvas, 91.44 x 60.96 cm (left). Robert Houle, Shaman Never Die, oil on canvas, 91.44 x 60.96 cm, 2015 (right).
Portrait: Robert Houle, 2015, photograph by Derrek Roemer.