A Saskatchewan artwork gallery is investigating 2,000 items in its assortment following the return of a stolen statue to India.
CBC News was lately granted entry to the basement vault of Regina’s MacKenzie Art Gallery, where namesake Norman MacKenzie’s journals and information are saved. They element MacKenzie’s theft of the Indian statue, but in addition increase questions on other items he acquired from China, Syria and elsewhere.
Galleries and museums throughout North America and Europe are dealing with calls for to return items looted from other international locations. Some say it is additionally time to debate whether or not names like MacKenzie ought to stay on these buildings.
“Institutions — whether they’re local, provincial, national — all created a colonial narrative. The narrative was one of defeat. It’s a colonial story,” stated Gerald McMaster, a Canada analysis chair on the Ontario College of Art and Design (OCAD) and director at the Wapatah Centre for Indigenous Visual Knowledge.
“I think the reckoning is coming.”
The MacKenzie gallery’s CEO John Hampton lately escorted CBC News to a basement door marked “Vault,” keying in a sequence of safety codes earlier than getting into. After donning blue latex gloves, Hampton opened a drawer containing MacKenzie’s unique dictated ledgers from his 1913 world journeys.
MacKenzie had moved to Regina from Ontario years earlier and established a thriving regulation follow. His rising artwork assortment was virtually completely destroyed throughout the 1912 Regina Cyclone, the deadliest twister in Canadian historical past, which killed 28 people.
MacKenzie and his spouse then launched into the primary of two world excursions to interchange and improve his decimated assortment.
The story of the statue
Hampton opened the big, black leather-bound ebook and flipped by web page after web page of pictures and descriptions of every piece. It included the story of the Indian statue.
MacKenzie had apparently dictated the story sooner or later after returning: He and his information have been rowing down the Ganges River within the holy metropolis of Varanasi, then known as Benares, when they came across a Hindu temple.
He noticed three stone statues on the fringe of a pool stuffed with crimson liquid. MacKenzie assumed it was sacrificial blood, however gallery officers say it was most certainly colored with “sindoor,” a crimson powder utilized in ceremonies.
MacKenzie talked to a man there who agreed to steal one of many statues. Later that evening, the man introduced all three to MacKenzie’s lodge room.
MacKenzie stated he’d solely purchase one, as a result of he knew it was “a most serious offence” and he might have “gotten into trouble” with the British colonial government if he tried to smuggle out all three. MacKenzie advised the man to return to the scene and put again the other two statues.
But he took the third statue — depicting goddess Annapurna — again dwelling to Saskatchewan, where it remained for the previous 108 years.
In the ledger entry, as with others, MacKenzie seems proud to have spirited out the uncommon non secular artifact.
“This is the idol that I saw the people worshipping … and is a good sample of the type of idol which is used by the poorer classes,” MacKenzie stated.
Two years in the past, visiting Winnipeg artist Divya Mehra raised questions concerning the statue, initially as a result of it was mislabeled. Gallery officers investigated, concluded it belonged to the people of Varanasi and voluntarily returned it.
Upon its return final month, the Annapurna statue was draped in vibrant robes and flowers and brought on a multi-city tour. Hindu trustworthy lined the streets to catch a glimpse of the procession to Varanasi.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who represents Varanasi in parliament, lauded its return. He additionally thanked gallery officers and the University of Regina, which was bequeathed MacKenzie’s assortment after his dying in 1936.
It was vital for Annapurna to return dwelling, stated Hampton.
“There’s definitely mixed emotions that we’re all feeling here now; proud that we could take these steps, but also regret and shame, thinking that for over 100 years, she’s been gone from that territory and stewarded at the MacKenzie for so long without the same sense of care that she receives in that home community,” he stated.
There are actually questions over other works within the MacKenzie assortment.
MacKenzie’s excursions took him throughout Asia; he amassed a very massive assortment from China. At the time, many determined, ravenous Chinese people have been promoting something they had to outlive.
According to MacKenzie’s personal notes — which are additionally chronicled in a 2010 journal article by University of Regina professor emeritus Gail Chin — he talked to a Japanese diplomat about his need to own a “valuable Chinese idol.”
The man directed MacKenzie to 2 temples within the metropolis of Soochow, now known as Suzhou, where MacKenzie would discover a monk “so hungry that he would trade food for an icon.”
That’s precisely what MacKenzie did. He positioned the icon in his hand baggage and introduced it again to Canada. That bronze, seated Buddha remains to be sitting within the MacKenzie Art Gallery’s basement.
Chin has researched MacKenzie’s Chinese assortment, together with the Buddha statue. In the 2010 article, she stated MacKenzie’s purpose of bringing the world’s artwork to the Canadian Prairies was noble on one stage. But trying nearer, she wrote, MacKenzie “wished for others to stand in awe of his taste, wealth and social position.”
In an interview with CBC News this week, Chin was requested how she feels about Norman MacKenzie at the moment. She paused for a number of seconds earlier than answering.
“Well, I suspect that Norman MacKenzie would probably ask me to shine his shoes,” stated Chin, a third-generation Chinese Canadian.
“That was the social order back then, and I accept that. Society has changed, evolved. At least I hope so. Because along with Indigenous people, we all hope and pray for reconciliation.”
There are additionally questions on MacKenzie’s acquisitions of sacred non secular objects from other international locations.
In 1930, MacKenzie purchased a sculpture utilized in a funeral service within the Syrian area of Palmyra from controversial supplier Edgar Banks.
According to the journal Syria Archeology, Art and History, Banks looted dozens of web sites throughout the Middle East and had been fired by the University of Chicago and other establishments for his unscrupulous practices within the years earlier than that sale to MacKenzie.
Reconciliation as a central purpose
The MacKenzie assortment additionally accommodates scores of North American Indigenous artwork. Much of that was bought immediately from First Nations artists, however it will all be a part of the two,000-piece review now underway, Hampton stated, who grew up in Regina and is a citizen of the Chickasaw Nation within the southern U.S.
Not all First Nations or worldwide artwork was stolen or obtained unethically, stated McMaster, a citizen of the Siksika Nation in Alberta, who grew up on the Red Pheasant Cree Nation close to North Battleford, Sask.
But a lot of it was, he stated, and the reality should come out.
The “colonial mentality” that allowed MacKenzie to steal artwork is identical mentality that allowed highly effective white males to create the residential faculty system, McMaster stated.
McMaster stated three issues have to occur on the MacKenzie and other galleries after the reality is uncovered.
First, the skills and rights of those artists and cultures should be acknowledged.
Second, objects should be returned to their rightful homeowners and communities, wherever attainable.
Third, it is time to debate whether or not to hold names like MacKenzie on galleries and museums.
Floyd Favel, the curator of the Chief Poundmaker Museum, a new gallery and museum on the Poundmaker Cree Nation close to North Battleford, Sask., agreed. His fundamental purpose is to repatriate any objects stolen from his First Nation.
“One of the root causes of major institutions being in possession of stolen art or artifacts is due to racism; those institutions feeling that those people or that artist or that group is not worthy of that very beautiful work of art, whereas we are, because we’re colonialists and we have a big museum,” stated Favel.
It’s unclear how lengthy the MacKenzie investigation will take. The gallery hopes to rent somebody devoted to that work and is looking for funding sources, Hampton stated.
While a few of MacKenzie’s actions have been deplorable, Hampton stated, any dialogue ought to steadiness these “very glaring blind spots” with the positive facets. For instance, MacKenzie was a agency believer that artwork must be seen by all, even internet hosting exhibitions for most people in his own residence.
As for the gallery itself — which opened 20 years after MacKenzie’s dying — it was the primary in Canada to host a present by Indigenous artists. Many of its curators and senior workers in recent times are Indigenous and from other numerous backgrounds. And reconciliation by artwork is now one of many gallery’s central objectives, stated Hampton.
“I think that there’s still a lot to admire about Norman MacKenzie and how he went about building his collection and thinking about the community here,” Hampton stated. “There’s a lot to be celebrated, and then there’s these elements that he needs to be held accountable.”