Unsettling Encounters: First Nations Imagery in the Art of Emily Carr

By Rolfe, Christopher | British Journal of Canadian Studies, September 2008 | Go to article overview

Unsettling Encounters: First Nations Imagery in the Art of Emily Carr


Rolfe, Christopher, British Journal of Canadian Studies


Gerta Moray, Unsettling Encounters: First Nations Imagery in the Art of Emily Carr (Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press, 2006), xiv + 386pp incl. 197 illustrations. Cased. $75. ISBN 978-0-7748-1282-6.

It would seem that revisionism is stalking the halls of Canada's art galleries, targeting the country's most iconic painters. Leslie Dawn's National Visions, National Blindness: Canadian Art and Identities in the 1920s (2006) -reviewed above - and Beyond Wilderness: The Group of Seven, Canadian Identity and Contemporary Art, edited by John O'Brian and Peter White (2007), challenge deep-rooted convictions about the Group of Seven and reassess their role in the nationalisation of nature in Canada. And now we have a radical re-examination of the equally iconic Emily Carr. Moray's thoroughly documented and handsomely presented book is revisionist in the sense that it seeks to fill what she calls 'a serious gap in our knowledge of [Carr's] work', that is to say her involvement, her unsettling encounters, with Northwest Coast First Nations peoples and their cultures. What prompted Moray's sense that these encounters are much more significant than has been commonly accepted was the sheer scale and intensity of Carr's output between 1907 and 1913 as she set out on her mission to record, for posterity, native villages and totem poles.

Moray argues that to appreciate fully the significance of Carr's work it is crucial to explore all the many dimensions - including the efforts to assimilate Aboriginal people - of the period during which she lived and worked. …

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