Ottawa photographer and curator winners of 2019 Governor General’s Awards in Visual and Media Arts

Lee-Ann Martin. Morning Star, Alex Janvier, 1993, installation view, Canadian Museum of Civilization.

Two artists connected to the Ottawa area have been named as winners of the 2019 Governor General’s Awards in Visual and Media Arts.

A total of eight artists are being honoured this year. The awards recognize the careers of each.

Each winner will get $25,000 and a bronze medallion on March 28 at Rideau Hall. And some of their works will be displayed at the National Gallery of Canada from March 28 to Aug. 5.

“Throughout their outstanding careers, these artists have moved us, provoked us and stunned us. They have shifted our outlooks toward new horizons, compelling us to see the world differently and sometimes even to take a stand on certain issues. Above all, they have triggered reflections within each of us that go far beyond words and images,” said Simon Brault, Council’s director and CEO, in the release.

Lee-Ann Martin.

Lee-Ann Martin, of Carp, Ontario, won the Outstanding Contribution Award which goes to artists who have made an outstanding contribution to the visual arts (including architecture and photography), the media arts and fine craft, in a volunteer or professional capacity.

She is an independent curator of Indigenous Art these days but she is the former curator of Contemporary Aboriginal Art at the Canadian Museum of History and she was head curator at the MacKenzie Art Gallery in Regina (1998–00). She was also the Paul D. Fleck Fellow at the Banff Centre, where she co-ordinated the first Indigenous residency and an international symposium. She also served as the Coordinator for the Task Force on Museums and First Peoples, and she was the First Peoples Equity Co-ordinator at the Canada Council for the Arts.

Her writing has been published by the National Gallery of Canada, Oxford University Press, University of Washington Press, Banff Centre Press, the National Museum of the American Indian, and Douglas & McIntyre.

Martin’s curatorial projects include Close Encounters: The Next 500 Years, Plug In Institute of Contemporary Art in Winnipeg, Manitoba (2011); the nationally touring exhibitions, The Powwow: An Art History, MacKenzie Art Gallery (2000) and INDIGENA: Perspectives of Indigenous Peoples on 500 Years, Canadian Museum of Civilization (1992), which travelled internationally.

“[Lee-Ann Martin] embodies the artist’s dream curator: always thorough and thoughtful, her unbridled enthusiasm and tireless work has helped us tell our stories, in all their weird and wonderful manifestations,” said the artist Mary Anne Barkhouse in the media release.

The other Ottawa resident is the storyteller, curator and photographer Jeff Thomas, who was acknowledged with a Lifetime Achievement Award. Thomas, in the artist’s statement on his website says: “I am a self-taught photo-based artist and curator and my career in the visual arts began in 1979 following a life changing car accident that left me unable to work again. I turned to my interest in photography to begin a new life and focus on confronting photo-based stereotypes of aboriginal people.

Jeff Thomas. Photo: Andrew Hunter

“My research of photographic history pointed out two significant absences that would become the point of departure: The first was photographs depicting aboriginal people living in cities and the absence of images produced by aboriginal people. I was frustrated by the silence and challenged to stimulate conversations that did not exist.”

Thomas was born in Buffalo, New York and is an “enrolled member” of the Six Nations Reserve.

“His intelligence, generosity and integrity underpin and inform every aspect of his art, which he uses to make sense of and improve the world. Jeff’s work has changed how we see the world and given us intellectual tools for critical agency that we cannot afford to be without,” said Richard Hill, who is the Canada Research Chair in Indigenous Studies at Vancouver’s Emily Carr University of Art & Design.

Among his exhibitions are Birdman Rising, A Necessary Fiction: My Conversation with Edward S. Curtis & George Hunter, The Dancing Grounds, and Resistance Is NOT Futile. He has also been in many group shows, including The Family Camera; Toronto: Tributes + Tributaries, 1971-1989; Land/Slide: Possible Futures; SAKAHÀN at the National Gallery of Canada and UNMASKING with Arthur Renwick and Adrian Stimson.

Thomas is also a curator and has been praised for his scholarship and innovative curatorial practice. As a curator, he has been involved in major projects at the Canadian Museum of History, the Woodlands Cultural Centre, the Art Gallery of Ontario and Library and Archives Canada.

He has received the Canada Council’s Duke and Duchess of York Award in Photography, the Karsh Award in photography, and a REVEAL Indigenous Art Award, and he has been inducted into the Royal Canadian Academy of Art.

He is the author of Where are the Children? Healing the Legacy of the Residential Schools, an exhibition that revealed the residential school experience of Indigenous people.

The other winners are:

The Saidye Bronfman Award went to Susan Edgerley, who is a glass artist based in Val-Morin, Quebec. The Saidye Bronfman Award was created in 1977 and is awarded annually to an exceptional fine craft artist. In addition, the Canadian Museum of History acquires one of the winner’s works.

Other Lifetime Artistic Achievement Awards went to: 

Stephen Andrews, a visual artist based in Toronto; Marlene Creates, a visual artist based in Portugal Cove, Newfoundland; COZIC (Yvon Cozic and Monic Brassard), visual artists from Sainte-Anne-de-la-Rochelle, Que.; filmmaker and media artist Ali Kazimi of Toronto; and Andrew James Paterson, a Toronto-based media artist. 

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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.