Charles Comfort, British Columbia Pageant (detail), 1951, oil on canvas. SFU Art Collection. Gift of Toronto Dominion Bank, 2003.

Why Art Matters: Art, SFU and Aboriginal Reconciliation with Dana Claxton, Richard William Hill and John O'Brian

Thursday, March 29, 2:30 - 4:00PM
AQ 3159, SFU Burnaby Campus

Art is essential to our understanding of the world's rapidly shifting cultural, political and environmental topography and offers ways of thinking toward various futures. Simon Fraser University recently released a report from its Aboriginal Reconciliation Council that articulates art as an essential component in the dialogue around reconciliation and calls for a meaningful engagement with the work shown on campus.

A large number of works from the SFU Art Collection are publically displayed on SFU's Burnaby campus. Works that are insensitive to Indigenous culture and history, such as those by Canadian artists Charles Comfort and John Innes, are currently installed alongside works that approach questions of Indigenous identity and politics by Marianne Nicolson, Bill Reid and Edgar Heap of Birds.

When a large mural by Charles Comfort entitled British Columbia Pageant (1951) was installed at SFU in 2004 it was met with protests from faculty and students opposed to its representation of Indigenous history in this province. Since that time, there have been works installed in response to the controversy in order to create dialogue, but there is a larger question now as to whether the work should be removed. Embedded within this discussion is the original commission of the mural by TD Bank and SFU's acquisition of it in the early 2000s, raising questions of institutional power and responsibility.

Bringing together artist Dana Claxton and the art historians/curators Richard William Hill and John O'Brian, this panel will consider why and how art matters in this discussion. Beyond illustration and propaganda, how does art's complex thinking support our changing landscape and the representation of Indigenous culture? In the context of a pedagogical institution, what is art's role?


Dana Claxton is an artist from the Lakota First Nations-Wood Mountain reserve in Southwest Saskatchewan. She lives and works in Vancouver, where she is an Associate Professor in the Department of Art History, Visual Art and Theory at the University of British Columbia. Her work has been shown at SFU Galleries' Audain Gallery, Vancouver; Museum of Modern Art, New York; Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Walker Art Centre, Minneapolis; Eiteljorg Museum, Indianapolis; and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney. She has participated in the 17th Biennale of Sydney, 2010; La Biennale de Montréal, 2007; and Le Havre biennale d'art contemporain, 2006.

Richard William Hill is Canada Research Chair in Indigenous Studies at Emily Carr University of Art and Design. Prior to that Hill taught full time in the Art History program at York University (2007-2015). As a curator at the Art Gallery of Ontario, he oversaw the museum's first substantial effort to include Indigenous North American art and ideas in permanent collection galleries. Hill's essays on art have appeared internationally in numerous books, exhibition catalogues and periodicals. His column Close Readings, featuring extended reviews of contemporary Indigenous art, ran in Fuse and C magazines. He also has an irregular column at He is currently on the editorial board of the journal Third Text.

John O'Brian is Professor Emeritus, Art History at the University of British Columbia. He publishes on modern art history and criticism, including Canadian art history, and is the author, co-author, or editor of eighteen books and more than sixty articles. His current research is on nuclear photography in North America and Japan and he has curated several exhibitions on this topic. His books include Beyond Wilderness (2007), edited with Peter White; Ruthless Hedonism: The American Reception of Matisse (1999); Voices of Fire: Art, Rage, Power, and the State (1996), co-edited with Bruce Barber and Serge Guilbaut; The Flat Side of the Landscape (1989); Degas to Matisse (1988); and David Milne and the Modern Tradition of Painting (1983). He is also the editor of the four-volume edition of Clement Greenberg: The Collected Essays and Criticism (1986 and 1993).

Co-presented with First Nations Studies and supported by SFU's Department of External Relations.

Reception to follow at SFU Gallery.

Directions: Lecture room AQ3159 is located on the south side of the Academic Quadrangle, just east of SFU Gallery.


Why Art Matters: Art, SFU and Aboriginal Reconciliation with Dana Claxton, Richard William Hill and John O'Brian
Thursday, March 29, 2:30 - 4:00pm
AQ 3159, SFU Burnaby