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Uninvited: Canadian Women Artists in the Modern Moment
Discover a lesser-known chapter in Canadian art history
Uninvited celebrates a generation of extraordinary women painters, photographers, weavers, beadworkers and sculptors from a century ago. Together, they opened up new frontiers for women artists in Canada, as seen in this cross-country snapshot of female creativity during the dynamic interwar period.
Incorporating the work of settler and Indigenous visual artists in a stirring affirmation of the female creative voice, Uninvited challenges the notion of the quintessential Canadian artist. It explores the diversity of women creators from coast to coast to coast, many of whom have been neglected by traditional art history. What emerges is a vibrant social mandate for art, moving away from the unpopulated wilderness portrayed by many of the era’s male artists to a poignant examination of cities, resource extraction, social issues, human psychology, the displacement of Indigenous peoples, and the immigrant experience. These women depicted what their male counterparts were perhaps less inclined to see, producing art from a place of deep humanity, curiosity and intelligence.
Featuring nearly 200 works of art, the National Gallery of Canada’s presentation of Uninvited includes more than 30 works from its own collection. The Gallery is thrilled to be the fourth and final venue for this remarkable exhibition, which offers a fuller and more diverse picture of the visual arts in Canada during a pivotal modern moment.
Organized by the McMichael Canadian Art Collection with the exceptional support of the National Gallery of Canada
The process of the growth of a nation’s art is the process of the growth of the soul of a nation, of the conscience of that nation. —Paraskeva Clark
Don’t miss Inspired Words, a special audio tour developed in conjunction with Uninvited.
Did You Know?
Most of the leading women artists in Canada during the first part of the twentieth century were highly trained, often having studied at the premier art schools of Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver, and in New York, London and Paris. Whereas prominent male artists of the day were largely trained in commercial illustration and graphic design.
Isabel McLaughlin was mocked for her painting of a fearsome and overpowering tree, with critics implicitly asserting that landscape was an exclusively male pursuit. Yet she persisted.
In contrast to the theatrical and often doom-laden handling of Indigenous themes by male artists, who saw a dying way of life, a number of settler women artists in this period express a quiet kinship and gentle intrigue with these living communities, seeking to learn what they could.
As left-wing ideals about the social order were emerging in Canada, thanks to the crushing legacy of the Depression and the rise of totalitarianism in Europe, artists such as the Russian-born Paraskeva Clark and the Montreal painter Marian Dale Scott were deeply engaged with the movement toward a more equitable society.
In cities after WWI, women created new kinds of social relations in places of their own devising. The sculptors Frances Loring and Florence Wyle, for instance, took over a church hall and declared it home, creating a free space for ideas and explorations of all sorts, challenging both the gender norms and the sculptural practices of the day through their powerful subjects.
Women from Black and Mi'kmaq communities in Nova Scotia made traditional baskets and boxes to sell outside the entrance to the Halifax Market – both being unwelcome inside the market doors. In both cases, the making of these goods marked a connection to the generations of women in their families who had come before them.
During this period, industrial subjects and Cubist elements defined the work of women painters such as Bess Larkin Housser Harris and Kathleen Munn, while others found epiphany in the lines of everyday objects. This is particularly true of Margaret Watkins, whose photographs of daily domestic routine feature the handsome curve of a porcelain sink or a coiled rubber shower hose, claimed by fresh eyes.
Emily Carr called her tree stumps “screamers,” identifying them as victims of human greed. Her paintings caution but also comfort, as the heavens overhead seem to offer solace and a return of the life force.
Let’s talk art
Have questions about the art you see? Look for our friendly interpreters throughout the exhibition on weekends and holidays.
In a complementary initiative to Uninvited, the National Gallery of Canada’s department of Indigenous Ways and Decolonization has created an adjacent Ancestors’ Gallery, a “show within a show,” which presents works by once-known Indigenous artists.
What does “uninvited” mean in an Indigenous context? Have Indigenous artists ever been invited to the table? Historically, both Indigenous men and women were left out. Oftentimes colonizers and settlers assumed Indigenous men to be leaders, but failed to recognize women’s important and powerful roles within their own families, communities and nations.
The seven works in this room have been selected from the many regions represented in the Gallery’s collection of historical Indigenous art. Created between the late 1700s and the 1920s, these works tell the stories of their cultural and practical purposes, their materiality and how they moved from their communities of origin and became part of the national collection.
Indigenous art specialists are researching the works in this collection, beginning with these seven ancestors, and will continue this important work on other historical Indigenous artworks in the Gallery’s holdings.
A monument to the talent of Canadian women artists in the interwar period, Uninvited: Canadian Women Artists in the Modern Moment provides a full and diverse cross-country survey of the art made by women during this pivotal time, incorporating the work of both settler and Indigenous visual artists in a stirring affirmation of the female creative voice.
Available in the Gallery Boutique and online
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The National Gallery of Canada presentation is supported by Reesa Greenberg.