Presentation of the Governor General’s Awards in Visual and Media Arts
Rideau Hall, Wednesday, March 28, 2012
Art surrounds us. And in this instance, I mean that literally. Rideau Hall is home to so many fantastic Canadian works of art—both heritage pieces and contemporary ones—from many different eras and in various forms.
I cannot count the number of times I have seen a visitor marvel at or stand entranced by a painting, sculpture or photograph. It has happened to Sharon and me on many occasions as well.
Each piece here, like your own works of art, speaks to us on a visceral level, evoking emotion and sparking discussion. But most of all, each adds another dimension to the question, “what is Canadian art?” that has been asked by people all over the world.
In the 1880s, the first exhibition of Canadian art in England debuted. One of the reviewers, upon seeing our work, remarked that he would have liked to see Canadian art that was more “Canadian to the backbone.”
Over 50 years later, in 1938, the largest exhibition of Canadian art ever displayed in England debuted. Titled A Century of Canadian Art, it was a milestone in our art history. For the first time, the National Gallery of Canada could showcase the breadth and depth of Canadian art. It was truly representative of our people, our values and our artistic awareness.
This exhibition, combined with another large one in Paris 10 years earlier, proved two things. One, that Canadian art was unique. We had found our “backbone.” And two, Canadian art—as much as the artists themselves—can be an ambassador of sorts on the world stage.
All of you being honoured here today with the Governor General’s Awards in Visual and Media Arts have had your work shown abroad. You recognize the universal language of art.
We can learn so much about different cultures through our artistic expression. Artists know this, but so, too, do foreign representatives.
Next month, I will be travelling to Brazil, where Canadian art played an essential role in strengthening our ties.
When Jean Désy was appointed as Canada’s first ambassador to Brazil in 1941, one of the ways he improved relations was by showcasing Canada’s talent. In 1945, an exhibition opened featuring Canadian art to great acclaim.
This was not the first time, nor the last, that our foreign representatives have used art to bridge understanding. Art speaks to the experiences, thoughts and feelings that are common to us as human beings. That is a universal language—and one that touches the soul.
Despite our differences, and whatever the medium you have chosen or the subject matter of your art, all of you in this room can look on one another’s work and recognize something meaningful about humanity, and the time and place in which we live. Through your work, a unique Canadian perspective takes its place on the world stage. That is what you bring.
Artists create, but individual pieces can be lost without an effective curator. Curators have a difficult, yet important role.
The recipients of the awards in Visual and Media Arts have played an important role in illustrating Canadian art at home and abroad. Throughout your careers, you have all helped to define how we are perceived and how art can help make this a smarter, more caring world.
Congratulations to all of you on this wonderful occasion.