For the first time in a Canadian fine arts museum, the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts (MMFA) is showcasing the prints of Alanis Obomsawin, distinguished filmmaker, renowned artist and cultural treasure to all. For nearly 50 years, working primarily with the National Film Board, the Waban-Aki artist has produced outstanding films focusing largely on the legends, experiences, memories and sufferings of her Nation, as well as other Indigenous communities, and their political conflicts with both provincial and federal governments. With a selection of over 40 of Obomsawin’s prints and four printing plates, the exhibition Alanis Obomsawin, Printmaker. An Artist and her Nation: The Waban-Aki Basketmakers of Odanak shows that Obomsawin’s talents extend far beyond movies and music.
Obomsawin has spent much of her life in the Waban-Aki community of Odanak, where she grew up. Her family was dependent upon the traditional practice of basketmaking for financial survival. The people of Odanak continue, with pride in their heritage, to create works with sweet grass and splints of ash trees, and the exhibition includes 12 basketwoven creations by members of the Odanak community.
Since the 1960s, and especially in the early 2000s, Obomsawin has also devoted herself assiduously to printmaking.The artist has an extraordinary sense for colour and its emotive potential, and makes evocative use of exquisite handmade papers.
Some of these prints record her personal dream images. Other works reflect the broader experiences of the Waban-Aki Nation. Of her multiple images of women and their children, she explains, “I did a series of mother and child engravings to honour women, who hold the highest power of all: to give life … In the old days, whether at work or at home, a mother and child were inseparable.”
Alanis Obomsawin is a leading figure in Canadian Indigenous film. Her cinematic oeuvre of more than 50 films includes outstanding documentaries such as We Can’t Make the Same Mistake Twice, WabanAki: People from Where the Sun Rises, Kanehsatake: 270 Years of Resistance, Richard Cardinal: Cry from a Diary of a Métis Child, No Address and Mother of Many Children. Featured in one of Obomsawin’s early documentaries, the 108-year old Agatha Marie Goodine said, “The Great Spirit created a woman, and made her mother of many children. The Great Spirit has affection and sympathy for the woman. And when a woman speaks, she should be highly respected and so her children because they are so precious.”
In parallel to her filmmaking, this legendary creator has forged successful careers as an author, storyteller and recorded singer, her music incorporating traditional songs of the Waban-Aki people as well as original compositions. Alanis Obomsawin has received innumerable distinctions, including the Governor General’s Award in Visual and Media Arts, Officer of the Order of Canada, Grand Officer of the Ordre national du Québec and the International Documentary Association’s Pioneer Award, along with extensive international praise and honorary doctorates. Her work has been featured in festivals throughout Canada and Europe as well as at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York. In 2018, this “Montreal Great” was honoured in a downtown Montreal mural portraying her image, near Atwater metro station.
An exhibition organized by the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts in collaboration with Alanis Obomsawin and the Waban-Aki Nation. Curated by Hilliard T. Goldfarb, Senior Curator – Collections, and Curator of Old Masters, MMFA