Mythologizing Norval Morrisseau
Art and the Colonial Narrative in the Canadian Media
Mythologizing Norval Morrisseau examines the complex identities assigned to Anishinaabe artist Norval Morrisseau. Was he an uneducated artist plagued by alcoholism and homelessness? Was Morrisseau a shaman artist who tapped a deep spiritual force? Or was he simply one of Canada’s most significant artists? Carmen L. Robertson charts both the colonial attitudes and the stereotypes directed at Morrisseau and other Indigenous artists in Canada’s national press. Robertson also examines Morrisseau’s own shaping of his image.
An internationally known and award-winning artist from a remote area of northwestern Ontario, Morrisseau founded an art movement known as Woodland Art developed largely from Indigenous and personal creative elements. Still, until his retrospective exhibition at the National Gallery of Canada in 2006, many Canadians knew almost nothing about Morrisseau’s work.
Using discourse analysis methods, Robertson looks at news stories, magazine articles, and film footage, ranging from Morrisseau’s first solo exhibition at Toronto’s Pollock Gallery in 1962 until his death in 2007 to examine the cultural assumptions that have framed Morrisseau.
- NOMINEE, Saskatchewan Book Awards, Indigenous Peoples’ Writing Award (2017)
“Morrisseau is a towering figure in the contemporary Canadian art world, a creative master, mentor, and visionary whose life and works will be discussed and debated for years to come. Carmen Robertson’s research and analysis of the uneasy relationship between the artist and the media is a welcome addition to a growing body of literature, not only on Morrisseau, but on the nature of contemporary Canadian culture and the difficulties faced by Aboriginal peoples attempting to define and affirm an identity within it.”
– Allan Ryan, Associate Professor, Canadian Studies/Art History, Carleton University
“Impressively researched, exceptionally well written and documented, informatively and accessibly organized and presented, Mythologizing Norval Morrisseau is an outstanding work of seminal scholarship.”
– John Taylor, MBR Bookwatch (Link)
“In addition to a cogent critique of the press and media coverage of Morrisseau’s life and work, Robertson offers a painstakingly thorough record and history of the emergence of contemporary Indigenous painting in the twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, told mainly through articles in the mainstream press, essays from exhibition catalogues, and quotes from Indigenous contemporaries. This account presents a rarely discussed aspect of Canadian art history and delivers an important contribution to scholarship in the field of Indigenous visual and cultural studies.”
– Bonnie Devine, Indigenous Visual Culture Program/ Ontario College of Art and Design University, University of Toronto Quarterly
“Offers a compelling linear historical overview of the relationship the media had with the artist. The timeline charts Norval as a forerunner of Indigenous artists, illustrating key artistic and personal events and the critical media pieces that documented and revealed how candid producers of this content viewed and treated Indigenous peoples and culture.”
– Jason Baerg, OCAD University, The Canadian Journal of Native Studies
About the Author
Carmen L. Robertson is a Lakota/Scottish scholar with a joint appointment in the School of Indigenous and Canadian Studies and the School of Arts and Culture at Carleton University. She also maintains an active curatorial practice. Robertson is the co-author of Seeing Red: A History of Natives in Canadian Newspapers.