The renaming of a painting inspired by a Vancouver Island Indigenous village has spurred debate on how reconciliation should be handled in the art world.
The Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto has changed the name of Emily Carr’s 1929 painting “Indian Church” to “Church at Yuquot Village”, the location of Carr’s sketch of a white church surrounded by crosses on Nootka Island.
A panel near the painting notes the name change besides an asterisk saying Carr used “the language of her era”.
The gallery says it is amending titles containing terms considered “discriminatory” by today’s standards.
Campbell River artist Sonny Assu says renaming the title only revises history, and doesn’t spark conversation about colonial history.
Assu says he would like to see Indigenous perspectives from a panel on the work.
Victoria’s Emily Carr House curator Jan Ross says changing the name “robs the artist,” and in contradiction of the artist’s intentions is equivalent to “censorship”.
Curator at the Art Gallery of Ontario Georgiana Uhlyarik and Indigenous curator Wanda Nanibush were jointly named to lead a rebranded Canadian and Indigenous Art department.
They are working to remove culturally insensitive language from titles as part of a “nation-to-nation” artistic approach and Carr’s painting is the first to be renamed publicly by the gallery.
Uhlyarik said the decision to take out the word “Indian” for a location descriptor came after consultations with residents of Yuquot and Carr scholars.
She hopes it will lead to more examinations into the history of the church, which she said burnt down and was rebuilt into a community centre.
With files from the Canadian Press.