Anishinaabe artist Ron Noganosh (1949-2017) remembered as a significant figure in Canadian art

The Ottawa visual arts community is remembering the respected Anishinaabe artist Ron Noganosh who died this past week at home.

News of his death was announced on Facebook by his friend and colleague Barry Ace who wrote, “It is with heartfelt sadness to post that my good friend and incredibly talented artist Ron Noganosh passed away at home yesterday afternoon (Nov. 15). I will be posting more details about a memorial once it is finalized.

Noganosh had a significant impact on the visual arts in Canada, the Ottawa Art Gallery wrote in a post of its own. He was considered a pioneer in assemblage work, the gallery said.

“His sculptures and installations of found-objects, paintings and drawings used humour to make poignant critiques of contemporary culture about issues faced by Indigenous peoples in Canada,” the gallery said.

The gallery quoted the American writer and art critic Lucy Lippard who said in 2001 that Noganosh’s “juxtaposition or fusion of humour and grief, which often adds up to anger, is at the core of much contemporary Native art, and Noganosh is one of its prime communicators”

Ron Noganosh. Photo by Rosalie Favell. Facing the Camera Series 2009. Inkjet on paper. Collection of The Ottawa Art Gallery. Purchased with the support of the Canada Council for the Arts Acquisition Assistance program and OAG’s Endowment Fund, 2011.

Noganosh was born in 1949 and is from the Magnetawan First Nation, near Parry Sound, Ontario. He studied graphic design at George Brown College in Toronto and fine arts at the University of Ottawa.

His work was included in many important exhibitions across Canada including a solo retrospective called It Takes Time at the Ottawa Art Gallery in 2001. He also exhibited internationally in Costa Rica, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Japan and the U.S., the gallery said.

His work is in the collections of the Canadian Museum of History, the Ottawa Art Gallery, the Woodland Cultural Centre and the Indigenous Art Centre. In 2008 he was named artist of the year by then Ontario premier Dalton McGuinty.

He was born into a family of 10, according to an Ottawa Citizen article from 2008. The article said that Noganosh’s family was severely affected by alcohol that led to the untimely deaths of several of his siblings. One of his pieces was called Anon Among Us in which the names of dead relatives who died violently were projected upon a makeshift grave. Most of the deaths were blamed on alcohol, the article said.

Noganosh trained as a welder, a trade that he put to good use in his sculptures. He even worked as an alligator wrestler.

In one talk he gave, quoted in an article in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, Noganosh said: “I’m an artist first, and a Native second. But an artist first.” Speaking about his sculpture Shield for a Modern Warrior, he said:  “When people asked me about being an Indian artist, they wanted beads and feathers. I said okay, and I did a piece, a warrior’s shield, out of flattened beer cans.”

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Peter Robb began his connection with the arts community in Ottawa in the mid-1980s when he was the administrator and public relations director of the Great Canadian Theatre Company. After a long career in journalism with the Ottawa Citizen where he served in a number of different posts he returned to the arts when he became the Citizen's arts editor.