Sakahàn: International Indigenous Art

This summer, the National Gallery of Canada is staging one of the most ambitious contemporary art exhibitions in its history. With installations filling both floors of our special exhibition spaces as well as our contemporary art galleries—not to mention several public spaces inside and outside the Gallery—Sakahàn: International Indigenous Art is Canada’s must-see exhibition this year.

Sakahàn—meaning “to light [a fire]” in the language of the Algonquin peoples—brings together more than 150 works of recent Indigenous art by over 80 artists from 16 countries, celebrating the National Gallery’s ongoing commitment to the study and appreciation of Indigenous art. This exhibition is the first in an ongoing series of surveys of Indigenous art. The artworks in Sakahàn provide diverse responses to what it means to be Indigenous today. Through their works, the artists engage with ideas of self-representation to question colonial narratives and present parallel histories; place value on the handmade; explore relationships between the spiritual, the uncanny and the everyday; and put forward highly personal responses to the impact of social and cultural trauma. The artworks range from video installations to sculptures, drawings, prints, paintings, performance art, murals and other new, site-specific projects created specifically for this exhibition.

Sakahàn features stunning and intricate works, such as an exquisite sculpture of a zippered shirt carved entirely from wood and a pair of masterfully shaped stone hands held together by a chain. Also included are monumental pieces, including a column comprised of 300 folded and stacked blankets that were donated by the public, a 50-metre-long banner hung above the colonnade ramp, and a commanding installation that transforms the façade of the Great Hall of the National Gallery of Canada into a work of art.

Sakahàn extends to other parts of the city: Murray Street in the ByWard Market will feature a billboard displaying a series of photographs depicting an artist dressed in powwow regalia as he goes about his daily, very metropolitan life. Museums and galleries in Ottawa, Gatineau and Wellington, New Zealand, are also staging related exhibitions in a summer of international Indigenous culture not to be missed.

Sakahàn is co-curated by Greg Hill, the NGC’s Audain Curator of Indigenous Art; Christine Lalonde, Associate Curator of Indigenous Art; and Candice Hopkins, the Elizabeth Simonfay Guest Curator, with the support of an international team of curatorial advisors: Arpana Caur (India), Brenda Croft (Australia), Lee-Ann Martin (Canada), Reiko Saito (Japan), Irene Snarby (Norway), Jolene Rickard (United States), Megan Tamati-Quennell (Aotearoa New Zealand), and Yuh-Yao Wan (Taiwan).

List of Artists

Vernon Ah Kee
Maria Thereza Alves
Pia Arke
Arnait Video Productions
Shuvinai Ashoona and John Noestheden
Sonny Assu
Mary Anne Barkhouse
Nanobah Becker
Christi Belcourt
Richard Bell
Rebecca Belmore
Corey Bulpitt and Larissa Healey
Andrea Carlson
Abraham Cruzvillegas and Jimena Mendoza
Cup’luaq (Jack Dalton)
Suresh Kumar Dhurve
Beau Dick
Jimmie Durham
En Lei
Nicholas Galanin
Billy Gauthier
Jeffrey Gibson
Brett Graham and Rachael Rakena
Daniel Guzmán
Julie Edel Hardenberg
Marja Helander
Inuk Silis Høegh
Geir Tore Holm
Robert Houle
Terrance Houle
Bayrol Jimenez and Rolando Martínez
Jonathan Jones
Brian Jungen
Toru Kaizawa
Sonya Kelliher-Combs
Shigeyuki Kihara
Walis Labai

Omero Leyva
César Antonio López
Erica Lord
Jimmy Manning
Teresa Margolles
Da-ka-xeen Mehner
Danie Mellor
Alan Michelson
Kent Monkman
Wangechi Mutu
Nadia Myre
Shelley Niro
William Noah
Fiona Pardington
Michael Parekowhai
Viggo Pedersen
Outi Pieski
Jamasee Padluq Pitseolak
Tim Pitsiulak
Edward Poitras
Annie Pootoogook
Itee Pootoogook
Abel Rodríguez (Mogaje Guiju)
Gjert Rognli
Jangarh Singh Shyam
Mayank Kumar Shyam
Venkat Raman Singh Shyam
Doug Smarch
Greg Staats
Yuma Taru
Jeff Thomas
Warwick Thornton
Jutai Toonoo
Maika’i Tubbs
Ingunn Utsi
Taika Waititi
Marie Watt
Steven Yazzie
Lawrence Paul Yuxweluptun


Vernon Ah Kee
Cantchant (wegrewhere), Detail, 2009. Video, 12 painted surfboards and 9 acrylic paintings on canvas. National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa. Purchased 2010 ©. Courtesy of the artist and Milani Gallery Photo © NGC