With O Canada, the experimental filmmaker and visual artist Joyce Wieland (1930–1998) actively responded to one of the new symbolic artifacts adopted by the government of Canada in the 1960s: the maple leaf flag (replacing the British-affiliated Red Ensign) was officially unfurled in 1965, and “O Canada” was officially approved as the national anthem in 1967. Wieland made a number of artworks that adopted or reinterpreted the new flag, as well as this piece, inspired by the new anthem.


Joyce Wieland, O Canada, 1970
Joyce Wieland, O Canada, 1970
Lithograph in red on wove paper, 57.4 x 76.4 cm, National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa

To make the work Wieland wore bright red lipstick and sang “O Canada” while pressing her lips to a lithographic stone with each new syllable. The resulting print shows rows of lips in various stages of opening and closing. Using the title as an important clue, Canadian viewers will likely feel their mouths twitch in recognition. In effect, this is a kind of interactive art. 


Her act of patriotic allegiance was deliberately gendered, moreover: these are female lips, and possibly sexy lips. The art historian John O’Brian remarks that “the print ironically conflates male patriotic love with female erotics, while refusing to collapse the tension between the two.” Instead of taking national identity for granted, Wieland calls on the viewer to reimagine, reclaim, and embody nationhood.


This Spotlight is excerpted from Joyce Wieland: Life & Work by Johanne Sloan.

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