Carleton University Art Gallery CUAG

Frank Shebageget: Light Industry

Curated by Sandra Dyck

09 May – 22 August 2010

The Ottawa-based Ojibway artist Frank Shebageget was born and raised in Upsala, northwest of Lake Superior. Although he no longer lives there, he continues to draw inspiration from the place where he spent his formative years. Shebageget never depicts the land itself, but has instead developed a spare iconography – house, airplane, fishing net – with which to explore the area’s complex identity and history in the context of what he calls “colonial influence disguised as progress.”

Shebageget’s multi-faceted artistic practice is modernist to the core, characterized by repetition, structure, rigour and simplified forms. He transmutes the personal and the political via his laborious investigation of a few objects integral to the cycle of production and consumption. He has made minimalist prints and drawings based on government blueprints of the “typical Indian house” and used ordinary millboard to craft vacant replicas of the one his father built in Upsala. On large sheets of black tar paper, the kind used to roof the houses of his childhood, Shebageget has written in orderly columns the names of all the reserves created in Canada by virtue of the Indian Act. He has addressed the post-war “opening up” of Canada’s north with elegant squadrons of models of de Havilland’s Beaver floatplane.

Light Industry demonstrates the continuing development of Shebageget’s personal iconography. His Flight Patterns drawings pay homage to the Beaver, the quintessential Canadian-made bush plane whose design is touted as a perfect marriage of form and function. Lodge, a jumbled pile of planes, flouts this idealised image while hinting at the power – constructive and destructive – of all dams and by extension, at attempts (human and non-human) to harness unruly nature. His newest work, the ambitious installation Cell, is comprised of nylon fishing nets hung systematically from a square aluminum framework, which metaphorically contains the mess and stink of fishing within the pristine “white cube” gallery space. The grid reigns supreme here, but it also governs such traditional First Nations practices as beadwork, basketry, and quillwork design.

Frank Shebegaget’s work ultimately speaks to his deep attachment to a place, a home, a landscape. As Hugh Raffles observed in In Amazonia (2002), “Nature is indissoluble from place. It resides in people as fully as people reside in it.”

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