Ray Cronin Reviews Multitudinous Voices of Art History
The title Future Possible: An Art History of Newfoundland and Labrador uses “an” with deliberation. The book’s editor, Mireille Eagan, is clear about that: “the cultural histories of Newfoundland and Labrador should be told in many voices.”
And it is, with 18 contributors telling many histories from many perspectives.
How did Newfoundland’s only university art school end up in Corner Brook rather than St. John’s? This book tells you that.
Why were Labrador’s Inuit excluded from the federal programs and support that made Inuit art such a vital economic driver for the other Inuit nations in Canada? That’s covered as well.
As are stories of colonization, the slave trade, genocide, economic oppression, crushing poverty, artist-run initiatives, cultural aspirations, collections and more. This book is weighty—literally and metaphorically. It’s also a pleasure to read and leaf through.
With over 180 images of works spanning almost the entire history of human occupation of Newfoundland and Labrador (the oldest work illustrated is from the Dorset culture, about a thousand years old, the newest date from 2019) this is a resource like no other. I can’t think of a book on Canadian art anything like it.
One would be forgiven for expecting this to be a chronological listing of events, the conventional type of history we are all familiar with from school days. But Future Possible is anything but that.
After a foreword and three introductions (including the Andy Jones monologue that provided the book’s title), the first “art historical text” is Heather Igloliorte’s fascinating account of how Nunatsiavut (Labrador Inuit) art was ignored for decades by the art establishment but nonetheless thrived.
Bushra Junaid looks at the links between the slave trade and Newfoundland, and later on Craig Francis Power celebrates the contrariness and criticality of artist-run culture.
These stories are told by curators, historians, writers, artists and performers. Many voices may not make a light book, but this multivalent web of histories will certainly stand the test of time.