Aabaakwad 2021 brings Indigenous art to everyone

The only Indigenous-led arts festival of its kind may be happening in Toronto, but it's an international affair!
In addition to this event, the AGO holds a large collection of Indigenous art, such as Métis artist Christi Belcourt's The Wisdom of the Universe. (AGO/Christi Belcourt)

In a little under two weeks, a really big event is coming to the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO).

Aabaakwad 2021!

Being held December 3 to 5, it is an entirely Indigenous-led and run arts gathering. It is also the only one of its kind in the world and is far more than just a collection of voices from Indigenous Peoples across North America. Its reach is global, aiming to bring ideas and art from Indigenous nations across the world.

Started in 2018, its location has alternated between Canada and international sites (last year, it was held in the Sydney Opera House in Australia!). This year though, it is at the AGO. Let's look at what makes this such a great event.

Not the same, but similar

Why make it an international festival? you might ask. Is it because the art styles are the same?

No, they are not. But whether you're speaking of the Maori in New Zealand, the Orang Asal in Malaysia, or the Anishinaabe in Canada, there are similarities in what each of these Indigenous Peoples have experienced. They have all found their cultures suppressed by dominant colonial ideas.

Their art has often either been borrowed and misused by those who don't understand it, or it has been ignored completely. A lot of that has to do with the fact that Indigenous Peoples haven't had control over galleries and festivals where art is typically showcased.


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That's what makes Aabaakwad (meaning 'it clears after a storm') so significant. With full control over the gathering, Indigenous artists and thinkers can focus on supporting and lifting up each other's work. They can also share ideas on how to meet the challenges of getting their art seen and heard.

What's on the schedule?

This year's festival will feature 40 presenters from 24 different First Nations, located in six different countries. There will be painting, sculpture, poetry, music, and more. If you are near Toronto, the first two days are held in person at the AGO, while the third day (Sunday, December 5) is all virtual, and features artists from Brazil and New Zealand. But all three days will be available for viewing online via links on their site.

One more thing to note: we are a website for young people (hi there, you super readers—thanks for joining us every week!). And although the AGO has many excellent programs built for kids, this one is not curated for children specifically. But we learn a lot about one another and our community when we talk about art and why we make it. This is an opportunity to experience Indigenous art from around the world, which has the potential to be inspiring and educational.

We'll leave with a video walkthrough one of the Sunday exhibits: Pasapkedjiniwong: THE RIVER THAT PASSES THROUGH THE ROCKS. This is a collection of international Indigenous art—from Maori, Cree, and Métis—including a large 3D-printed sculpture made from the sound of someone's voice! Neat!

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