The ROM’s Canadian Modern Exhibit: Canadian Design Roundup
The Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) shines a light on the vast world of Canadian design with its new exhibit, Canadian Modern. The exhibit documents a century of innovation on the part of Canada, beginning with the arrival of European designers and craftspeople in the country, to Canadian-born artists building off of their methods to great success.
Canadian Modern features a diverse array of artifacts, bridging the world of fashion, furniture and technology. In total, the collection is made up of 100 pieces, ranging from the limited-edition to the mass-produced, the pop culture embedded to the landscape inspired, and the historically symbolic to the future-minded.
The exhibit documents work from the early-mid twentieth century all the way to the present. A special feature of Canadian Modern is its work in collaboration with the Ontario College of Art and Design University (OCAD). Through OCAD’s Career Launcher program, six emerging designers Anthia Barboutsis, Elfy Castro, Rachel Leung, Stephanie Singh, Khalalelo Sithole, Dan Cui, Harcharan Jagdev, and Pei Hsuan Huang were selected for inclusion amongst the rest of the display. With this feature, Canadian Modern bridges Canada’s past to its future in a remarkably exciting way.
“This, in many ways, was meant to bring more diverse representation from marginalized groups, but it was also an opportunity to engage in a dialogue between the exhibition in terms of what Canadian design has been and the direction that it is going,” explained Dr. Dori Tunstall, Dean of the Faculty of Design at OCAD. “It extends the conversation around what the Canadian Modern will mean in this contemporary context by looking at what contemporary designers are doing and having that juxtaposition between the past and the present and in many ways the future that young designers represent.”
We’ve rounded up some of our favourite pieces, spanning the likes of established artists to select OCAD honourees, emerging into the industry themselves.
Anthia Barboutsis, art jeweller
One of the selected OCAD designers, Anthia Barboutsis, displayed a stunning pair of earrings and a matching bangle. Her work as an art jeweller employs craftsmanship drawn from her Greek and Indian heritage, mixing basket weaving techniques with the practices that are traditional amongst the craft of jewllery. Barboutsis explained that “like many first-generation Canadians, [she] reflects on designs from [her] heritage to create something new, something beautiful, and something worth celebrating.”
Alfred Sung, fashion designer
The work on display by Alfred Sung is a true symbol of Canadian identity: the Blanket Coat. This piece demonstrates Canada’s colonial history, with stripes crafted from Point Blankets that were made by the English to trade with the Indigenous for pelts centuries ago. The coat was commissioned by the Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC) which began crafting Blanket Coats in 1922, 200 years after the Indigenous people of Canada had started the practice.
Daphne Odjig, artist
Daphne Odjig is one of Canada’s highest-regarded artists. Six decades of work, spanning the gamut of styles and form, Odjig presented a keen social awareness and feminist angle in her work. The piece she has on display is her Mother Earth Vase, a piece that displays a specific piece of art by Odjig herself painted onto ochre. The vase was a part of the “Native Series” by Canadian pottery company, Blue Mountain Pottery.
Khalalelo Sithole, fashion designer
Khalelo Sithole displayed two quilted textiles, both encompassed with diverse colours and patterns, for which she designed and crafted. As one of the OCAD designers selected, she is influenced by modern and sociocultural trends and themes. She explained that her piece was designed “to challenge the systematic erasure of Black Canadian history and retell it through coded textiles.”
Michael Massie, craftsman and sculptor
Inuit, Métis and Scottish sculptor, Michael Massie’s display features a teapot inspired by his grandmother. It combines her love for tea with the shape of an ulu, an all-purpose knife wielded by Inuit women. The teapot is engraved with a dried fish, or ‘pitsik.’ This, combined with his use of silver and bloodwood, materials outside the Western ideas of Inuit craft, represents Massie’s embrace of his combined ancestry and desire to challenge the stereotypes put on him and other Inuit craftsmen.
Karin Jones, multimedia artist
An artist of African, Nova Scotian and German descent, Karin Jones’ piece is a brooch designed to challenge the legacies of racialized colonialism. The brooch presents the appropriation of othered bodies in Western cultures, with the figure on the left portraying a Khoikhoi woman from South Africa named Sarah Baartman. Baartman was displayed for European consumption in the early 1800s, and “dehumanized for her body type.” She is juxtaposed with the figure on the right, a woman wearing Victorian-era fashion, demonstrating an appropriation of her silhouette. It is a powerful image showing the past, whose impact can still be felt, and better understood, in the present.
These selected pieces encompass only a fraction of what this exhibition has to offer. Canadian Modern exhibit is running from now until July 30, 2023.
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Thomas Publow is a contributor at Glossi Mag. Currently finishing his degree in journalism from Toronto Metropolitan University, Thomas considers himself an expert in all things VMAs and Beyoncé.