Group Exhibition We Are Story: The Canada Now Photography Acquisition

Jan 28–Jul 23,  2023
  • asinnajaq
  • Raymond Boisjoly
  • Aaron Jones
  • Lotus Laurie Kang
  • Robert Kautuk
  • Gabrielle L’Hirondelle Hill
  • Sanaz Mazinani
  • Jalani Morgan
  • Louie Palu
  • Dawit L. Petros
    Aaron Jones, Holding my Grandmother’s Oranges, 2021 (collage; 127×198.1cm). AGO purchase, with funds from the Canada Now Photography Acquisition Initiative, Edward Burtynsky and Nicholas Metivier, 2021. ©Aaron Jones, courtesy the artist and Zalucky Contemporary. 2021/275
Aaron Jones, Holding my Grandmother’s Oranges, 2021 (collage; 127×198.1cm). AGO purchase, with funds from the Canada Now Photography Acquisition Initiative, Edward Burtynsky and Nicholas Metivier, 2021. ©Aaron Jones, courtesy the artist and Zalucky Contemporary. 2021/275

Bringing together ten artists who highlight the vitality and range of contemporary photography across the country, We Are Story foregrounds how people experience their surroundings, and how shifting realities can imbue environments with new meaning. The works were purchased through the Canada Now Photography Acquisition Initiative, conceived in 2020 by Edward Burtynsky and Nicholas Metivier in response to the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on artists.

Sanaz Mazinani, Tokyo/Damascus, 2012 (pigment print, mounted and laminated to Dibond; 149.9cm dia.). Purchase, with funds from the Canada Now Photography Acquisition Initiative, Edward Burtynsky and Nicholas Metivier, 2021. ©Sanaz Mazinani. Courtesy of the artist and Stephen Bulger Gallery. 2021/101

All these projects are speaking about something that we’re experiencing together, in different ways, right now.

— Sanaz Mazinani, 2023

We Are Story: The Canada Now Photography Acquisition is a testament to the possibilities of the photographic image, from photograms to drone images, across a spectrum of documentary and experimental approaches. From the night skies of Nunavut to the streets of Damascus, this exhibition brings into dialogue the works of asinnajaq, Raymond Boisjoly, Aaron Jones, Lotus Laurie Kang, Robert Kautuk, Gabrielle L’Hirondelle Hill, Sanaz Mazinani, Jalani Morgan, Louie Palu, and Dawit L. Petros.

Holding my Grandmother’s Oranges (2021), a collage by Toronto-based artist Aaron Jones, opens the exhibition. Blending images from various sources, including a postcard of California oranges that used to hang in his late grandmother’s home, the work reflects the many ways that images are a key part of—as Jones put it— “the ways we build ourselves.” Adjacent to Jones’ work is Lotus Laurie Kang’s Her own devices (2020), an installation of 35 photograms depicting various mesh bags gathered by the artist over the years. Each bag takes on a unique form through variations in contrast, depth, sharpness, and detail, and together they reflect Kang’s ongoing interest in the body as a vessel. Another piece reflecting on the potency of everyday objects is Vancouver-based artist Raymond Boisjoly’s Lucky X Lager 8 (2012–16). For this work, Boisjoly scanned and magnified the bottoms of an eight-pack of Lucky Lager beer, a brand popular in western Canada and the United States. By transforming it into a ready-made sculptural monument, devoid of branding, the artist meditates on how value and identity are defined, represented and circulated.

Works by asinnajaq, based in TiohtiĂ :ke (Montreal), and the Vancouver-based Gabrielle L’Hirondelle Hill appear in dialogue, asking viewers to reassess their understanding and relationship to land. Visitors first encounter asinnajaq’s where you go i follow (2020), an image printed on sheer fabric featuring a close-up of the shallow waters in James Bay. As viewers move around the work, the fabric also moves, bringing our human presence into dialogue with the natural world. The artist includes text prompts on the surrounding walls, furthering this meditation. Included in this tranquil space is Hill’s Braided Grass (2013). Made during a residency in Kamloops, British Columbia, the artist braided the growing grass in a field on a hill by a highway-side parking lot. Her ephemeral intervention powerfully blends traditional knowledges with contemporary performance.  

Following these works, viewers are met with a diptych by Toronto-based artist Jalani Morgan, from his series The Sum of All Parts (2014). The work depicts an overhead view of a “die-in” that took place at Yonge-Dundas Square following the killing of Eric Garner in 2014. This original photograph made the front page of the Toronto Star that same year, giving powerful visual form to the burgeoning days of the Black Lives Matter movement in Toronto. Additionally, Washington DC-based photographer Louie Palu’s series The Fighting Season 1 (2007–10) explores the human impact of war with a selection of twelve prints documenting the conflict in Afghanistan. Palu offers a nuanced portrait of a contemporary conflict involving Canadian troops, whose outcome remains deeply polarizing. Viewed from a distance, Tokyo/Damascus (2012), a circular piece by Toronto-based artist Sanaz Mazinani, resembles the ornamentation typically found in Islamic art. Closer inspection reveals that the piece combines two distinct images sourced from the internet; one is of the Occupy movement and the other is of an Arab Spring demonstration, inviting viewers to reconsider the global nature and simultaneity of these events and their images from multiple perspectives.

Visitors then confront a foundering ship in Eritrean-born, Chicago/Montreal-based artist Dawit L. Petros’ Act of Recovery (Part II), Nouakchott, Mauritania. Recalling what prompted him to photograph this moment in Mauritania, the artist says: “We are used to seeing shipwrecks on the shores of Europe […] this wasn’t yet another displaced African body. That made it feel powerful.” After this potent piece, the exhibition closes with seven prints by Inuit artist Robert Kautuk, documenting his daily life in Kangiqtugaapik, a small community located on the east coast of Baffin Island. Mostly shot using a drone camera, Kautuk’s body of work brings together community Elders, researchers, and climate scientists engaging with the land.

Robert Kautuk, Walrus Hunt, 2016 (inkjet print; 53.34×90.8cm). Purchase, with funds from the Canada Now Photography Acquisition Initiative, Edward Burtynsky and Nicholas Metivier, 2021. ©Robert Kautuk. 2022/7046

Curated by AGO Curatorial Fellow Marina Dumont-Gauthier with Sophie Hackett, AGO Curator, Photography.

Presented by the Art Gallery of Ontario

asinnajaq is an Inuk multidisciplinary artist, filmmaker, writer and curator from Inukjuak, Nunavik. Currently based in TiohtiĂ :ke (Montreal), she studied filmmaking at NSCAD University in Halifax, Nova Scotia. As the daughter of celebrated filmmaker Jobie Weetaluktuk and Professor Carol Rowan, she grew up immersed in storytelling. Throughout her multidisciplinary practice, asinnajaq weaves together narratives of land, water and Inuit histories. She advocates for the environment, engaging with local communities and disseminating Inuit culture through art.

Raymond Boisjoly is an Indigenous artist of Haida and QuĂ©bĂ©cois descent who lives and works in Vancouver. He earned his BFA from Emily Carr Institute of Art and Design and his MFA from the University of British Columbia. With photography at the core of his practice, Boisjoly misuses various imaging technologies, like scanners, photocopiers and inkjet printers, to transform and reinterpret archival film footage, pop culture content and everyday objects. Through his artistic interventions, Boisjoly interrogates the way popular media situates Indigenous art and artists within a colonial context. By reworking the “readymade” object, Boisjoly offers a new lens through which the viewer can investigate these everyday items.

Aaron Jones is an artist, curator, entrepreneur known for his work with collage. Working with lens-based mediums, he refers to himself as an image-builder, weaving together diverse materials from books, magazines, newspapers, and personal photos to forge captivating characters and alternate realities. These objects and images to explore the inherent possibilities in world-building and abstraction. Jones seeks to expand canonical Blackness, employing found images, and other tools to build characters and spaces that reflect upon the nuances of his own upbringing and current life, as a way of finding peace. Jones is represented by Zalucky Contemporary, Toronto.

Lotus Laurie Kang, a Toronto-based interdisciplinary artist, holds a BFA in photography from Concordia University and an MFA from Milton Avery School of the Arts at Bard College in New York. She creates installations that concern the body and the forces that shape it. Drawing on biology, feminist theory and even science-fiction, Kang’s work reveals the body as a process, always in a state of becoming, forevermore in relation to other bodies and environments around us. She draws on her Korean heritage, often altering, elevating and preserving materials that shaped her upbringing in thought-provoking ways.

Robert Kautuk is an award-winning photographer based in Kangiqtugaapik (Clyde River), Nunavut. He uses a digital SLR camera and mobilizes drone technology to capture spectacular views of rarely seen moments, activities and landscape in the Canadian Arctic and his community. He has worked as a photographer and researcher on projects in the Arctic and is a driving force behind the Clyde River Knowledge Atlas—a digital platform that documents Inuit traditional knowledge while also encouraging community-led research. His recent exhibitions include Dark Ice, Ottawa Art Gallery and We Are The Story: The Canadian Now Photography Acquisition, Art Gallery of Ontario.

Gabrielle L’Hirondelle Hill is a Métis artist and writer living on unceded Musqueam, Skwxwú7mesh, and Tsleil-Waututh territory. Her practice explores the history of found materials to enquire into concepts of land, property and economy. Often, her projects emerge from an interest in capitalism as an imposed, impermanent and vulnerable system, as well as in alternative economic modes. Her works have used found and readily sourced materials to address concepts such as private property, exchange and black-market economies. Hill is a member of BUSH gallery, an Indigenous artist collective seeking to decentre Eurocentric models of making and thinking about art, prioritizing instead land-based teachings and Indigenous knowledges.

Sanaz Mazinani is an Iranian-born multidisciplinary artist, curator and educator based in Toronto. She holds an MFA from Stanford University and a BFA from the Ontario College of Art & Design. Working in photography, sculpture and large multimedia installations, she reflects upon digital culture in her art and asks how image circulation affects ideas of representation and perception. By exploring pattern, repetition and Islamic ornamentation, she aims to politicize image distribution. Mazinani’s unique visual language invites viewers to critically reflect and rethink how we see.

Jalani Morgan is a first-generation Canadian cultural anthropologist and photographer based in Toronto, whose body of work ranges from reportage to formal studio portraits. Primarily self-taught, Morgan’s photographic curiosity, craft and technical skills culminate in a multifaceted practice that chronicles visual representations of Black life and communities—both in a Canadian context as well as across the greater contemporary African diaspora. Morgan is the photo editor for The West End Phoenix, an independent, non-profit community newspaper known for its diverse storytelling. He has established a 15-year career producing editorial works for various newspapers and magazines.

Louie Palu, a Canadian documentary and photographer, examines socio-political issues such as war in his work. For over 30 years, he has explored human rights conflicts, poverty and strife, both nationally and globally. Born in Canada to Italian immigrant parents who witnessed the violence of the Second World War, Palu grew up hearing their stories of trauma and poverty, later shaping his voice as a documentary photographer. Throughout his career, Palu has created twelve series that examine the humanity within conflict, affording his subjects agency while challenging stereotypes associated with conflict photography. His work also draws on the tension between the photograph as a document and as an art object.

Dawit L. Petros, born in Eritrea, lives and works in Chicago and Montreal. He spent his formative years in Ethiopia and Kenya before settling in Saskatchewan with his family in the 1980s. These experiences of migration helped shape his artistic practice. Through his work, Petros investigates the entanglements of colonialism and modernism that bind Africa and Europe, from both a historical and contemporary point of view. While his core medium is photography, he works across a range of other media, including sculpture, video, sound and installation. His photographs raise questions about displacement, identity and the transnational experience of cultural negotiation.