toronto biennial of art

Spotlight on indigenous artists at the first-ever Toronto Biennial of Art

A free art extravaganza, with exhibitions from local and international artists, hits the waterfront this month

The city’s first Toronto Biennial of Art is set to open this weekend, after almost five years of planning. At a media preview on Sept. 20, the leadership behind the event stressed the importance of highlighting indigenous voices and environmental issues while raising the profile of Toronto’s art scene.

Patrizia Libralato, the Biennial’s Executive Director, said that one of the main questions behind the biennial was inclusion. “How do we create a powerful and inclusive moment for Toronto,” she told the crowd, “in which experimentation, creativity, and big ideas, are supported, shared, celebrated, and elevated?”


Toronto Biennial of Art
ReMatriate Collective, Yours For Indigenous Sovereignty, 2018

Toronto Mayor John Tory was also on hand to voice his longtime support for the project. “Things that celebrate art, that allow us to tell our stories to each other, to celebrate our indigenous peoples, to understand our history when it comes to the shoreline, and many other things are incredibly important,” said Tory, “especially when it comes to the arts.”


Mayor Tory at Toronto Biennial of Art
Mayor John Tory spoke at the launch of the Toronto Biennial of Art

Libralato said they hope to welcome approximately 400,000 visitors over the course of the biennial. More than 90 artists are featured in the event, from Canada and across the world.

AA Bronson’s exhibition, A Public Apology to Siksika Nation, directly engages with attempts to rectify the historical treatment of indigenous peoples, including that by his family in particular. “It’s kind of an extreme situation to find oneself in,” he said, “it really traumatized them for generations to come.”

Bronson collaborated with indigenous artist Adrian Stimson to create works that would work in response with one another. Stimson’s work, Guess Who’s Going To Dinner, considers Bronson’s proposed apology through the lens of residential school survivors. Bronson hopes that his work helps build bridges between cultures.


Adrian Stimson
Adrian Stimson, Iini Sookumapii: Guess who’s coming to dinner?, 2019

Salomonie Ashoona, one of the youth artists involved in Embassy of Imagination + PA System, came from Cape Dorset, Nunavut to see his work shown at the biennial. He says that he comes from a family of artists, and his brother originally got him involved in Sinaaqpagiaqtuut/the Long-Cut, the project commissioned by the Biennial. “My hometown is a birthplace of art,” he said. Other indigenous artists with exhibitions at the event include Qavavau Manumie, ReMatriate Collective, and Isuma.


toronto biennial of art
Toronto Biennial of Art’s main building

Tory and the committee behind the biennial have even bigger plans for the art world in Toronto. According to Tory, the next biennial (in 2021), will be accompanied by a year of public art and a full expansion of Nuit Blanche citywide, beyond downtown and Scarborough.

This year’s biennial runs from Sept. 21 to Dec. 1, at various locations across the shoreline. A series of special events will take place opening weekend, including a procession performance of Sinaaqpagiaqtuut/The Long-Cut, which will begin at the Bentway at 4 p.m. on Saturday.

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