As with many historical collections of artworks, there are certain works in the Winnipeg Art Gallery’s collection that are culturally inappropriate in today’s context. This could include their subject matter, their mediums, or their institutional cataloguing and titles. The Artworks Renaming Initiative addresses these problematic pieces by incorporating Indigenous knowledge in their renaming.

The objective of the Artworks Renaming Initiative is to give new names to identified artworks with the assistance of Indigenous Elders, knowledge keepers and language keepers. Research is conducted around the individual artworks to determine the location and timeframe of the work. The Indigenous Nation featured in the artwork is identified, and an Elder from that Nation re-names the work of art.

This renaming project is now complete but we anticipate similar and ongoing projects to arise as we work more closely with our collection.

Watch the online presentation and panel discussion about the initiative here.

The Gallery is grateful to the Indigenous Elders and Knowledge Keepers for their work on this project:

Wanbdi Wakita, Pahan Pte San Win, Victor Tssessaze, Brett Huson, and Martha Peet.

For example, one artwork title has been changed with the help of the Indigenous community. Metis curators, Sherry Farrell Racette and Cathy Mattes renamed A Halfcast with his Wife and Child to A Metis Family while gathering research for an exhibition. The original title now acts as the secondary title and is in brackets, by keeping the original title, provenance of the artwork can still be traced easily. A statement will accompany this new title explaining the decision to rename the work and how that process came to be on our website. These new titles will also be reflected in-gallery with updated didactic panels.

This renaming initiative has a significant impact on the canon of art history. By allowing Indigenous knowledge keepers to rename these works, we are rewriting the history of that artwork and allowing for Indigenous world views to become a part of the gallery, a part of our collection permanently. Historically Indigenous knowledge has not been a part of art institutions and we hope this is a small step into changing that perspective moving forward.

This initiative demonstrates our commitment to implementing the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action, the UNDRIP and incorporating Indigenous knowledge into the Gallery permanently. We hope this project sets a precedent with other galleries in Canada to rethink the colonial lens in which they present work. Art galleries and museums in Canada have a longstanding tradition of presenting art from a colonial, European lens, and for the modern gallery to move forward in reconciliation with Indigenous people, all aspects of art and the gallery must be examined and questioned.

This project is part of the larger initiative of Decolonizing the Collection, which includes an updated provenance statement, and ceremonial care.

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The Winnipeg Art Gallery is located on Treaty No. 1 the original lands and waters of Anishinaabe, Ininiwak, Anishininiwak, Dakota, and Dene peoples, and on the homeland of the Métis Nation.
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