In the Belly of the Whale: Reflections on Precarious Future(s) and Aging Settler/ Colonial Institutions
Independent artist, curator, educator and writer
Abstract: Through a combination of personal stories, historical narratives, contemporary art, museum case studies, and his own artist/curator projects, Andrew Hunter will consider the problematic pasts and precarious futures of museums, galleries and arts organizations, with an emphasis on Canadian institutions and their relationships with dominant global models. Emphasizing the colonial roots of these spaces, Hunter will reflect on the growing demands from many communities for significant, foundational change in these so-called “public” institutions. Through the lenses of parallel disciplines (particularly natural history, life sciences and geology), Hunter considers the challenge, and potential barriers to, adaptation and confronting the underlying commitment of most institutions to retain their foundational cultures and structures. In the Belly of the Whaleoffers a deeply personal and self-critical perspective, shaped by a wide range of experiences in the arts, from high profile positions, to the periphery and self-imposed exile.
“He lived with us in the belly of the whale, and the whale spit him out on the farther shore.” - from Opening Invocation by Jean-Paul de Dadelsen (1950)
Bio: Andrew Hunter is an artist, curator, educator and writer. Born and currently based in Hamilton, Ontario, he is a graduate of the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design. Over three decades, he has worked nationally and internationally, holding curatorial positions across Canada (including at the Art Gallery of Hamilton, Vancouver Art Gallery and Art Gallery of Ontario) and, as both an artist and curator, has produced exhibitions and publications for such institutions as the National Gallery of Canada, Winnipeg Art Gallery, the Banff Centre for the Arts, Concordia University, University of Toronto, Museum of Modern Art Dubrovnik (Croatia), Hammer Museum at UCLA and Museum of Fine Arts Boston, among many others. Hunter ran the experimental interdisciplinary arts-based program RENDER (University of Waterloo), co-founded the creative research project DodoLab (with Lisa Hirmer) and has been a collaborator with the community focused arts research initiative proboscis UK (London, England). He has taught graduate and undergraduate courses at University of Waterloo/Waterloo Architecture and OCAD University and worked closely with organizations supporting at-risk and marginalized youth. A former house painter, steeplejack, caretaker and marina and factory labourer, Hunter’s grandparents came to Hamilton in the 1920s from Birmingham, England, and Glasgow, Scotland, as working people and his parents were Hamilton born and worked in industry and health care.
Hunter regularly writes and speaks about institutions of culture and history, the erasure of histories, the marginalization of cultures by colonial institutions and the responsibilities and accountabilities of settler communities. Since resigning his senior position as Curator of Canadian Art at the Art Gallery of Ontario in 2017, he has continued to be an outspoken critic of the entrenched systems of exclusion (defined by wealth, privilege and whiteness) that remain the foundations of so-called “public” institutions. Recent talks include presentations at Harvard University, University of Glasgow, University of Toronto, and keynote talks at the 2018 Archives Association of Ontario Conference (Laurier University) and the 2018 Saskatchewan Artists Association Conference (University of Saskatchewan). Widely published, his most recent text, written as his alter-ego Professor William Starling, appears in the fall 2018 issue of Blackflash magazine.
At heart, Hunter’s work is multi-disciplinary and exploratory, incorporating visual art, writing, performance and media, as well as academic and archival research and story-telling. Acknowledging his status as a settler and invasive species, he is committed to collaboratively developing and sharing new approaches that break from colonial models and embracing the Calls to Action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. In addition, the mental health of individuals, communities and cultures is (for personal and professional reasons) of fundamental importance to his life and work. Hunter considers it essential that work in the arts be socially and critically engaged and accepts the categorization of much of his work as “social work” (a term usually applied as a criticism).
Prof. Heather Igloliorte, Concordia University Research Chair in Indigenous Art History and Community Engagement
Prof. Charmaine A. Nelson, Art History and Communication Studies, McGill University