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A view of “Unceded: Voices of the Land,” Canada's official exhibition at the 2018 Venice Architecture Biennale.

Canadian Indigenous architects attend Venice Biennale of Architecture

Master Canadian architect Douglas Cardinal brought a message of both hope and defiance when he led a team of 18 Indigenous architects to represent Canada at the 2018 Venice Architecture Biennale recently.

Cardinal, best known for his design of the Canadian Museum of History in Gatineau, Que., said the installation created by his team was an exhibition of multimedia artwork with curved video screens flowing through “territories” representing the North American Indigenous experience and how architects translate cultural needs into community spaces.

He said the exhibition, titled Unceded: Voices of the Land, expresses the pride and resilience of Indigenous architecture. But, he added, the analysis has to recognize colonization, dirty dealing, even apartheid and genocide.

From left: Douglas Cardinal with co-curators, David Fortin and Gerald McMaster.

Co-curator, Gerald McMaster,  is Plains Cree and a member of the Siksika First Nation in Alberta. He's also Canada Research Chair in Indigenous visual culture at OCAD University in Toronto.

"It is probably one of the most prestigious art fairs and architectural fairs in the world," he said of the Biennale.

McMaster, says the Venice Biennale is a prestigious exhibition.

"It's a way for all countries to come together and see where the conversation of architecture is at in the present moment," said McMaster.

"You can check out what's going on around the world within our field."

"We felt that the Indigenous voice was important, for us to share our stories and let people know that Indigenous architects are here and practising," said David Fortin , the other co-curator of the project.

"We have a different way to think about design and architecture."

Fortin is Métis and the director of the McEwen School of Architecture at Laurentian University in Sudbury, Ont.

In creating the collaborative piece, the group of architects agreed they wanted to bring in components of their own unique experiences as Indigenous people.

"We wanted each person to tell their story and how their approach of design reflects aspects of their indigeneity," said Fortin.

The exhibit itself is an immersive experience beyond a traditional set of model buildings.

"The architecture is laid over with with voices, music, nature," said Fortin.

"The exhibit is trying to weave together all of these things, people, histories, ancestors, the lands ... The core message is that Indigenous architecture needs all of those things."

A rendering by Douglas Cardinal from the Unceded: Voices of the Land project.



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