Spring 2024

Representing Truth & Reconciliation Through Art in Bancroft

Jennifer Shea

Representing Truth & Reconciliation Through Art in Bancroft

Robin Tinney is an Algonquin artist who co-curated two separate art shows at the Art Gallery of Bancroft (AGB) in the fall of 2023: “Truth” and “Reconciliation” in an effort to broaden awareness about both perspectives.

10 years ago, Tinney had curated an art show at the AGB called “Critical Mass” featuring artwork from six Indigenous communities. “I spent the better part of 14 months reaching out to different Algonquin communities and trying to get artists involved. I had no budget at all. It was a matter of asking people for favours.” The show was highly successful, breaking both attendance and sales records at the gallery.

For the fall 2023 shows, Tinney was able to obtain a grant from Indigenous Tourism Ontario. He offered some of the funds to each Algonquin community for their artists. “Art supplies are not cheap, and these are communities that have very little in the way of excess money. I wanted to make sure that that was not an issue; if somebody needed extra money to buy a canvas and some paints, we could make that happen.”

Tinney decided to separate the exhibits into two so that the messages of truth and reconciliation could be more powerfully received. “I envisioned it as two separate shows to make sure that people understood that it’s not one thing. You have to acknowledge and accept the truth of what happened and continues to happen, and then, how do we fix that? They are two sides of the same coin, but you need to know that there are two sides.” The works of Indigenous artists were featured in the “Truth” show and non-Indigenous artists in the “Reconciliation” show. The shows ran back-to-back.

Once again, it proved challenging to get Indigenous artists on board for the “Truth” show. Tinney was asking the artists to represent their own perspective of living as an Indigenous person in Canada, and this could be a risky endeavour. “It was asking them to trust me. I wanted to have impactful artwork, but I wanted the artists to be comfortable in what they were creating.”

“In the end, the artwork that was selected ran the gamut from being really in your face pieces to others that were much more tender in what they saw as the truth of living in Canada,” says Tinney.

For the “Reconciliation” show, it was also a bit challenging to generate artworks. “The artists themselves were all in different stages of awareness. There’s very little lived experience in terms of reconciliation. I was encouraging artists to think about it.”

Tinney is a carver and, since many of the artworks for the two shows would be paintings, he recruited Algonquin artist (painter) Rocky Green on board as co-curator. The AGB was filled for both exhibits, with 16 artworks in the “Truth” show and 15 artworks in the “Reconciliation” show. 

“Bancroft is the quintessential small-town Ontario hub for many local artists whose exhibited work has usually focused on the apolitical and decorative, mainly landscape and wildlife art,” says Molly Moldovan, AGB chair and head of curatorial. “It might be the last place you would expect to find powerful artistic statements on political hot-button topics.”

“And yet … these two exhibitions broke all attendance records for the AGB’s 41 years of existence, with over 200 attending the opening reception for “Truth” and 125 for “Reconciliation.” We also had more class visits with students from our region than ever before. The feedback from all attendees was unwaveringly positive.”

Tinney is pleased with the impact of these shows on the gallery, the Bancroft community, the non-Indigenous artist contributors, and, especially, the Indigenous artists who contributed. “I have given some artists an opportunity to actually consider themselves artists. There are now more people in my Algonquin community and other communities who realize they are allowed to express this.”

Tinney is now looking into opportunities to share these two art shows in other communities. 




Truth exhibition artists: Valerie Dawn Chevrier, Aarin Crawford & Trudi Knapp, Sherry Crawford, Lynn Dawson, Diane Hannah, Rhonda Haws, Little Bird, Pamela McElheran, Sarazin Connor, Melinda Shank, Lin Smith, Theresa Soloman, April Warren, Leeann Wilson, and Whitney Area school children.



Reconciliation exhibition artists: Barbara Allport, Ken Balmer, Kelly Beaulieu, Tanya Fenkell, David Ferguson, Carol Giles, Henry Melissa Gordon, Mieke Herman, Carolyn Jongeward, Linda Mackey Lang, Molly Moldovan, Ingrid Monteith, Allan O’Marra, Lynne Vegter and Leilah Nancy Ward.

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