La Balade pour la Paix: An Open-air Museum

A public art exhibition on Sherbrooke Street
June 5 to October 29, 2017


This public art exhibition of international scope is part of the official program of Montreal’s 375th Anniversary. It has been designed and organized by the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts with the support of McGill University. It commemorates two other major events, namely the 50th anniversary of Expo 67 and the 150th anniversary of Canadian Confederation. A genuine outdoor museum, La Balade pour la Paix will extend, with the support of the City of Montreal, one kilometre along Sherbrooke Street between the MMFA and Concordia to the west, and the McCord Museum and McGill to the east. Works by Canadian and international artists will be presented along the route, which will be lined with the flags of Canada and the provinces as well as those of some 200 countries. La Balade will be a reminder of how Expo 67, which attracted 50 million visitors, was an open window on the world – a memorable moment for both Quebec and Canada.


Illustration: Claude Cormier et associés.

  • Niki de Saint Phalle (1930-2002), Dancing Nana (Rouge d'Orient - Bloum), 1995, polyethylene resin, fibreglass, steel, paint, 1,024 x 768 cm. François Odermatt Collection, in collaboration with the McGill University Visual Arts Collection © Niki Charitable Art Foundation / SODRAC (2017)
  • Wang Shugang (born in 1960), The Meeting (detail), 2007, 8 painted bronze figures, 92 x 75 cm (each). Collection of the artist, Vancouver Biennale loan, in collaboration with the McGill University Visual Arts Collection. Photo Dan Fairchild
  • Yayoi Kusama (born in 1929), PUMPKIN, 2015, polished stainless steel, urethane paint, 118.1 x 116.2 x 118.7 cm. New York, private collection
  • Betsabeé Romero (born in 1963), Tribute to Wirikuta, 2011, tires, plastic beads (chaquiras), steel, 300 x 300 cm. Collection of the artist, Mexico City, in ollaboration with the Consulate General of Mexico in Montreal
  • Magdalena Abakanowicz (1930-2017), Walking Figures (6/8), 2005, cast iron, 284 x 135 x 71 cm (each). Vancouver Biennale loan © Magdalena Abakanowicz, courtesy Marlborough Gallery, New York. Photo Dan Fairchild
  • Jonathan Borofsky (born in 1942), Human Structures Vancouver, 2010, 64 moulded, welded and painted galvanized steel figures, concrete base, 730 x 510 x 510 cm. Vancouver Biennale loan, in collaboration with the McGill University Visual Arts. Collection. Photo GoToVan


Thirty monumental sculptures by contemporary artists from several countries and the five major regions of Canada, including two First Nations artists from the West Coast, will be on display. Although the sculptures have their own particular aesthetic, personality and materials, each work has been specially chosen because it speaks to topical issues, such as peace among nations and the environment. The works are on generous loan from museums, institutions, private collectors, art galleries and artists, all of whom are enthusiastic about taking part in this grand celebration. In addition to Canadian works (Luben Boykov, Robert Davidson, Sorel Etrog, Ivan Eyre, Joe Fafard, Rose- Marie Goulet, Charles Joseph, Robert Murray, Catherine Sylvain), we will be able to see sculptures from Belgium (Wim Delvoye), China (Zhang Huan, Wang Shugang), the United States (Jonathan Borofsky, Alexander Calder, Jim Dine, Keith Haring, Robert Indiana, Dennis Openheim, Richard Prince), France (César Baldaccini, called César, Niki de Saint Phalle), Great Britain (Barry Flanagan), Italy (Giuseppe Penone, Michelangelo Pistoletto), Japan (Yayoi Kusama), Mexico (Betsabeé Romero), Poland (Magdalena Abakanowicz), Switzerland (Ugo Rondinone) and Taiwan (Ju Ming).

  • Charles Joseph (born in 1959), Residential School Totem Pole, 2014-2016, red cedar, acrylic paint, H. 1,524; W. 762; Diam. 152.4 cm. Collection Jim Balsillie Photo Greg McKee 2016.




    Faces of patron’s family, nine to twelve inches wide. Each face is different. Man’s face is bigger than his son’s, and carved differently. The placement of the patron and his family at the bottom represents the origin of this particular pole. It’s a representation of the foundation of the agreement culminating in the production of this work. This is something that Charles felt strongly about. Initially, he was planning to place the man higher on the pole, nearer the chief, but the final placement felt more appropriate and is a mark of commemoration and gratitude.

    Above that is a cedar ring, which looks like a rope. It symbolizes safety and security. The Kwakiutl use cedar for everything, including rope. The cedar rings are used around the neck and wrists and also for skirts during dancing. All of the carvings that are being used on the current poles and walls comes from Charles’ great-grandfather James Wadham’s. The history line of these designs belonged to this man. Every family has significant designs that belong to their households.


    The next figure on the pole is the wild woman. She is nine feet four inches tall on her knees. She has children on her lap, one on each knee. They represent the children coming back from the residential school, and she is welcoming them home. She represents female tradition and culture. The women are responsible for keeping track of the family artistic and cultural traditions. They will talk about this before meals that are accompanied by leisure and family time. Sometimes they would also act out the stories, or dance them out. The high-ranking chiefs wear a wild woman mask when they retire from their chieftainship, if that is part of the tradition of their family treasure boxes. They do this to represent their respect for the tradition keeping that is characteristic of the women.

    Charles tells the children who stop by his studio the story of the wild woman, who is often carved, and whose story was used to stop children from playing too carelessly in the forest when Charles was young. Frequently, in poles, the bear has the woman in between his legs, as if he is hugging her, and his arms raised, showing his claws. Inside the paws faces are carved, representing their eventual children.

    On the chest of the wild woman there is a butterfly. The butterfly represents the Turner Island tribe that Charles comes from (Mumtagila Tlowitsis). The butterfly wings look like a heart, on which it says “welcome home” in English (because the children have just returned from school… and they lost their language). The butterfly, which is used in opening ceremonies, during potlatches, for example, or a feast, or when children are named, or coming of age (when they get new names and new dances), or marriages, or celebrations for life, as an alternative to grieving (or as healing for grief) is also on top of the Numas, who is the highest-ranking man, from before the great flood. It is the butterfly that shows Numa the dry land emerging from after the flood, which he envisioned. He had all the tribes make cedar ropes, hundreds of feet long, to tie all the canoes together during the flood. Some of the canoes broke away, however, drifting all around the world. Such ceremonies are often planned by whole families, and everyone plays at least some role (provisioning gifts, for example).


    The next figure is the killer whale: nine feet. The whale has seven faces, representing six tribes known to the government, and one whose existence is disputed or ignored. That’s Charles’ tribe. Charles also laid out the seven faces partly for artistic reasons, as it balanced the pole well.

    The whale leaves where it’s from, goes all the way around the world, and comes back to where it was born. There is a famous rock near Robson Bite where whales go and scratch. This is now Robson Bight Ecological Reserve, which Charles says is part of their historical territory. The same whales always come back, although modern researchers do not know where they go after the summer. Charles’ great-grandfather said that the whales were following their food sources, traveling where it was necessary. When the big tides comes in, in their different cycles, bringing the whales the right kind of food, they often can be seen playing. This happens all along the Johnson Strait. Some are transients, who go right by – twenty to a pod. The homesteaders stay around longer, and cycle around the area: they come up and head north towards Port Hardy from the Robson Bite, then up Johnson Strait, to the top end of Queen Charlotte Strait, and then down to Georgia Pass, through Broughton Strait on the mainland side, back towards Robson Bite. This would be a full day’s ride in a good fishing boat. At night, in such a boat, you can hear them blowing, right beside you, close enough to touch. Charles’ people use to go out and feed them, and rub them at the rubbing rock.

    The faces represent the children who were adopted out from the reserves – all the native reserves across Canada. This pole is not just about Charles’ people, nor only about him. He had a wife and friends who were adopted out. They feel neither welcome in white society nor in the reserve. They can’t be native or white. They’re stuck between worlds. So these children were dispersed, like the whales traveling – but they could not easily come back home.

    Charles becomes aware of the the animal figures he is carving during his dreams. He feels that they are there all the time, but only evident during sleep. The figures speak Kwagiulth. As far as he is concerned, his great-grandfather and great-grandmother are speaking through the animals in his dreams. Sometimes he will take a break from carving, and have an afternoon nap. He will darken his room. If he is extremely tired, and is stuck on what he is carving, his greatgrandfather, great-grandmother and father will come into his dreams in the form of the animals he is carving and suggest solutions.

    They also appear into the animals that he is working on. They never appear as they were in life. Their voices, however, are constant, and the dances that the animals engage are also representative of what he saw when he was young.


    The raven is in the middle of the pole, midway between the bottom and top events. The raven is a trickster figure. He’s being used to represent the collusion between church and political state in the “assimilation” process, which produced people who didn’t make it at all – who died – and who emerged seriously wounded.

    There is a nun on the left side, and a priest on the right side. This is because when you faced the residential school, the women were on the left side (the women worked with the girls) and the men on the right (working with the boys). The dormitory building was half reserved for boys and half for girls. A four-story building seemed very big to Charles when he was six.

    There were kids who died. We were told they went home. The girls would get pregnant. There were abortions conducted in the infirmary, above the gym and auditorium. A nun nurse would be there for children with a bleeding rear end, or a pregnancy. It was “quarantined” so that outside people couldn’t tell what was going on in there. The nun and the priest are beside the Raven to illustrate all this.

    The horns on the Raven head identify his supernatural being. This emphasizes that the bird can transform. Horns on any animal demonstrate that it can transform, during a dance or on a carving. It can change into a human – the Raven, often, into someone who plays tricks. There are stories of the Raven, transforming into a human being, but losing his voice, and only being able to caw. During a dance, sometimes a Raven will drop flour on an audience member, out of the back of the dancer’s costume, to represent bird droppings. This is part of the joke. But you have to pay that person, later, for being a good sport, maybe twenty or a hundred dollars, depending on how well the joke worked.

    The Raven doesn’t like to be honest about things. He likes to play games. That’s the government worker, the Indian Agent, the staff members of the residential school, the priests and the nuns. None of them were who they were supposed to be. They dressed up like good people, but they were really something else. Charles saw this connection in a dream.

  • BEAR

    This is a spirit bear. The spirit bear has many faces – on the palms, shoulder blades, ears. On that bear, all the faces represent the children that did not make it out of St. Mike’s – and who came out and died later, from the damage. A powerful bear story was told to Charles he was a kid. The bear patrolled our perimeter, to protect our territory. In Charles’ dream, the bear was very gentle when it was picking up the kids. Charles was climbing all over him, playing with this bear, with ten other kids.


    Arctic Fox is an observer and an animal that careful measures its engagement with its surroundings. In the Innuit story telling, to whom the patron has connections with, the fox serves as a witness to what happened around us. Both Charles and the patron thought that one of the most important outcomes in this creative process is bearing witness to our past.


    On top of the fox, the Kulus figure stands. The wings will be out there, like a cross. The doubleheaded sea-serpent, the sisiutl, will be carved across there. The Kulus represents Charles chief. The cross is there, because many of Charles family members are Christian. His family members use the church for service and for death and believe it’s good for them. That’s how Charles is representing the good aspect of church-going.

  • Darren Ell, Born in Regina, Saskatchewan, in 1961 Lives and works in Montreal, Haitian Girls in front of Notre-Dame Cathedral, Cap-Haïtien, Haiti From the series “Cap-Haïtien and Shada”, 2008 Ink-jet print on adhesive vinyl, 1/1 Courtesy of the artist
  • Michel Huneault, Born in Repentigny, Quebec, in 1976 Lives and works in Montreal, Boarding and Departure from Budapest, Hungary, for Germany From the series “Occident Express”, 2015 Ink-jet print on adhesive vinyl, 1/1 Courtesy of the artist


Along the route, forty-two sets of photographs will be displayed on the front and back of twenty-one stelae. Visitors will stroll along Sherbrooke Street among works by contemporary Montreal photographers who have criss-crossed the world to capture images inspired by the values of openness, peace and diversity. This “album” will illustrate the importance of living better together and will promote peace and the acceptance of diversity and difference, fundamental elements promoting an innovative notion of otherness. Various approaches have been taken, including documentary photography and the photographic essay, in which art and life are closely associated. The subjects dealt with reveal a generous and human approach. Some photographers focus on the environment and the earth’s riches, while others appeal to our imagination and transport us to the places that inspired them. A dynamic narrative links the sculptures and photos in a dialogue with one another.

The photographers represented are: Raymonde April, Benoit Aquin, Olga Chagaoutdinova, Darren Ell, Angela Grauerholz, Isabelle Hayeur, Michel Huneault, Jean-François Lemire, Aydin Matlabi, Valérian Mazataud, Jon Rafman, Kim Waldron and Robert Walker. Aydin Matlabi is the author of the series “Heritage” shown here (ill. 7). In 2016, he photographed children with HIV or disabilities, war orphans, child soldiers and children accused of witchcraft in the Bumi orphanage in Lubumbashi, Democratic Republic of Congo. By dressing them in African wax prints, the quality of which reveals the social status of the wearer, the artist gives the children back power over their lives and their future. The photographer received the Healing the Void Award at the Artraker Biennial in Valetta, Malta, in 2017.

Acknowledgements and curatorial team

La Balade pour la Paix – An Open-air Museum is part of the official program of Montreal’s 375th Anniversary. It was designed and organized by the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts with the support of McGill University. The curators are Nathalie Bondil, Director General and Chief Curator of the Museum, Sylvie Lacerte, art historian and public art consultant, and Diane Charbonneau, Curator of Modern and Contemporary Decorative Arts and Photography at the MMFA. The installation design is by Claude Cormier, landscape architect, in collaboration with Michel Dallaire, designer.