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December 13, 2021

A work by Kapwani Kiwanga that tells of spiritual beliefs and political engagement

Kapwani Kiwanga (born in 1978), Nations: Burning of Cap-Français, June 1793, 2020, fabric, sequins, glass beads, trimming materials, epoxy-painted steel, 158 x 327 x 22 cm. MMFA, purchase, the Museum Campaign 1998-2002 Fund. © Kapwani Kiwanga / SOCAN (2021). Photo MMFA, Jean-François Brière

The Museum has just acquired Nations: Burning of Cap-Français, June 1793 – the first work by internationally renowned Afro-Canadian artist Kapwani Kiwanga to become part of the permanent collection. Currently on display in the newly reinstalled contemporary art galleries of the Jean-Noël Desmarais Pavilion, this work is also featured in MyMMFA, the digital experience offered in our new app, Echo. Be sure to try it out on your next visit to the Museum.

eunice bélidor

Gail and Stephen A. Jarislowsky Curator of Quebec and Canadian Contemporary Art (1945 to Today)

Born in 1978 in Hamilton, Ontario, Kiwanga has become one of the most important artists of her generation. She is known for her creative use of varied artistic techniques as well as for the ideas and statements she expresses through her works. In AFROGALACTICA: A brief history of the future, for example, she employed performance to articulate a reflection on major themes of Afrofuturism. In Flowers for Africa, an ongoing project featuring archival images portraying independence across the African continent, she uses fresh flowers and foliage that she then leaves to decompose. “Just as the enthusiasm seen during the independence period eventually faded, Pan-African dreams have been eclipsed by the daily difficulties faced by the average African citizen,” explains Kiwanga. Her work resonates powerfully with current debates: the relationship of domination between people and civilizations, feminism and its different cultural expressions, the still visible effects of colonialism, the existence of oppression and excessive control, issues of gender, class and racialization. The artist explores these themes in her installations, sculptures, videos and films, which push the boundaries of Postminimalism and conceptual art.

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The “Nations” series

This project took shape during Kiwanga’s stay in Haiti in 2009. As part of her ongoing research on the connections between spiritual and political beliefs, “Nations” draws from the syncretic nature of voodooism. Kiwanga’s idea was to create embroidered banners based on fragments of historic European artworks created in the 19th century – specifically, paintings and prints depicting the Haitian Revolution. To realize this project, she called on Jean-Baptiste Jean-Joseph’s studio, where Françoise Hazel coordinated the embroidery and beading work of local artisans in their reinterpretations of these works. Kiwanga provided them with a reference image but intervened as little as possible in their formal choices, and even left it to them to decide on the colours. The resulting compositions can be interpreted as flags as much as works of art. And in that sense, the flag carries a double significance: as a symbol of a nation-state, and a reference to the sacred sequin-covered drapo vodou (voodoo flag).

Nations: Burning of Cap-Français, June 1793

Our newly acquired work evokes the birth of Haiti – the first independent Black state – following the Haitian Revolution and the emancipation of the enslaved people. In 1793, the civil war intensified: a fire broke out and ravaged the “Pearl of the Caribbean.” Under pressue from the new elites, represented by Black generals like Toussaint Louverture, France’s National Convention signed a decree to abolish slavery on February 4, 1794. On January 1, 1804, Haiti became the world’s first Black republic.

This work resonates deeply with Montreal’s Haitian community, the largest Black diaspora in the city. We now have the honour of presenting to the public the very important history it evokes.

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An all-new digital experience in the heart of the collection!

On your next visit to the Museum, try Echo, our new image-recognition app that’s simple to use. Through your smartphone, you will be able to access novel video content on a selection of works in the collection. Find the Echo labels placed in various galleries, and admire the favourite artworks of Museum employees and public figures like poet Joséphine Bacon, chef David McMillan, fashion designer Denis Gagnon, Director Sophie Deraspe and Olympic athlete Marie-Philip Poulin.
Be sure to bring your earphones to optimize the enjoyment of this innovative digital experience – the first of its kind in any Canadian museum!

Learn more

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