As a “celebration of Indigenous architecture,” UNCEDED: Voices of the Land, on now at the Canadian Museum of History, was first presented as Canada’s submission for the Venice Architecture Biennale in 2018 and marks the first time in the architecture festival’s almost 40-year history that an entry has been displayed in its full form in North America. The exhibition was developed for the Biennale by architect Douglas Cardinal and adapted for display at the museum by the Canadian Museum of History.
The Venice Biennale originated as the International Art Exhibition in 1895 and has become one of the most significant cultural institutions in the world with current attendance rates of over 500,000 people. The architecture component of the Biennale was officially established in 1980, though architecture has technically been included since 1968. Addressing both the academic and practical sides of architecture, the Biennale is seen by many as the most important and prestigious showcase of contemporary architecture in the world.
Selected by the Canada Council for the Arts through a national juried competition, Cardinal was tasked with spearheading a team of eighteen Indigenous architects from across Canada and the United States. Cardinal, an internationally renowned architect and an Officer of the Order of Canada, is of Blackfoot ancestry. He was joined on the project by co-curators Gerald McMaster, a Plains Cree curator, artist and author, and Metis Architect and Laurentian School of Architecture director David Fortin.
Using text, audio and video, this multimedia exhibit is designed to give space for a plurality of voices to “[tell] an Indigenous expressionism across Turtle Island” reads the gallery notes. As a staple of Indigenous culture, storytelling is used throughout UNCEDED to provide context to the viewers about the people and communities served by the featured architects and designers. Organized into four themes or sections, stories of sovereignty, colonization, resilience, and Indigeneity are all included. The project team’s goal was to “… show the true beauty and value of Indigenous Peoples, representing Canada at this most important and prestigious international architectural event.”
As contemporary Canadian society begins to acknowledge the full scope and extent of colonial violence exacted on Indigenous communities, the timing of UNCEDED is important. While Indigenous spaces have traditionally been controlled by colonial and pejorative policies, this exhibit presents Turtle Island Indigeneity to the world in Indigenous peoples’ own terms and in their own words. Ultimately, UNCEDED: Voices of the Land is an immersive and thought-provoking experience for anyone with an interest in architecture and design or for members of the public seeking to decolonize their worldview.
UNCEDED: Voices of the Land, is on display until March 22, 2020 at the Canadian Museum of History located at 100 Laurier Street in Gatineau. Hours of operation and entry fees vary—please see the museum’s website for more information.