Primary Colours/Couleurs primaires is a multi-year arts initiative which began in 2016. Its main objective is to place Indigenous arts at the centre of the Canadian arts system. Primary Colours/Couleurs primaires also asserts that creative practices by artists of colour, who have roots around the world, play a critical role in imagining the future(s) of Canadian art making.
Primary Colours/Couleurs primaires works to de-centre the Western world art lens in order to better understand the complexity of Indigenous art forms and those from various communities of colour. This is explored by updating the 30 year old arts conversations regarding race, ethnicity, colonialism, cultural/racial diversity, racism in the arts - to name just a few areas - and by proposing new frames for the future.
Primary Colours/Couleurs primaires recognizes that IBPoC artists, their art practices and their communities are at the heart of the conversations that are creating these new framings. This will inevitably concern recent intersecting discourses - for examples: decolonization, conciliation/reconciliation, Indigenization, creative sovereignty, unsettling settlers, ‘post-postcoloniality’, artistic self-determination.
Primary Colours/Couleurs primaires generates new knowledge on the current and future state of the art practices and cultural relationships among Indigenous artists, artists from settler communities and artists of colour. This is elaborated by listening to multiple, sometimes dissonant, art histories from across this land.
Primary Colours/Couleurs primaires believes that artists have the vision to imagine and articulate new futures for the territory that we now call Canada.
Who We Are
“I am grateful to many artists - mostly women - who came before me, insisting that Indigenous artists and artists of colour be recognized with proper resources to create artworks. I am grateful for IBPoC artists - many of them millennials - who today continue this historical endeavour, often working in intersectional ways. They inspire me.”
Chris Creighton-Kelly is an interdisciplinary artist, writer and cultural critic born in the UK with South Asian/British roots. His performative, usually ephemeral, artworks have been presented across Canada, in India, Europe and USA. He has received grants and awards in five countries. Chris has been persistently interested in questions of absence in art-making. Whose epistemology is unquestioned? Who has power? Who does not? Why not?
For over 30 years, he has worked as an arts consultant for artists; arts organizations and institutions; government agencies in Canada and internationally. In 1989-91, Chris was a consultant to the Canada Council on issues of cultural/racial equity. His work launched the formation of two critical offices – the Aboriginal Arts Office and the Equity Office that have subsequently led the way in transforming the Council from a mostly European arts agency to one in which multiple art traditions and practices are funded. In 1991-92, he worked at the Banff Centre designing and directing a 20 artists’ residency, Race and the Body Politic which indirectly influenced the establishment of the Aboriginal Arts program.
In 2011, he co-authored, along with France Trépanier, Understanding Aboriginal Art in Canada Today. In 2012, they were co-recipients of the inaugural Audain Aboriginal Curatorial Fellowship awarded by Art Gallery of Greater Victoria.
Chris appreciates his audiences a lot.
France Trépanier is a visual artist, curator and researcher of Kanien’kéha:ka and French ancestry. Her artistic and curatorial work has been presented in many venues in Canada, the US and Europe. France was the Aboriginal Curator at Open Space Arts Society in Victoria BC, where she is co-curated, with Michelle Jacques and Doug Jarvis, the exhibition Deconstructing Comfort. She also curated the Awakening Memory Project with artists Sonny Assu, lessLIE and Marianne Nicolson. France was the co-recipient of the 2012 Inaugural Audain Aboriginal Curatorial Fellowship by the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria. She co-authored with Chris Creighton-Kelly Understanding Aboriginal Art in Canada Today: a Knowledge and Literature Review for the Canada Council for the Arts. Her essays and articles have been published in numerous journals and magazines. France is co-chair of the Indigenous Program Council at the Banff Centre. She worked at the Canada Council for the Arts before becoming a Senior Arts Policy Advisor for the Department of Canadian Heritage. She held a diplomatic post as First Secretary, Cultural Affairs at the Canadian Embassy in Paris. She directed the Centre for New Media at the Canadian Cultural Centre in Paris. France was also the co-founder and Director of the artist-run center Axe Néo-7 in Gatineau, Quebec.
Breanna Fabbro has been living as an uninvited guest on Lekwungen Territory for the past 5 years and is so incredibly grateful for all of the learning, creating, and friendships that continue to unfold here. She graduated from UVic in 2016 with a MFA in painting and soon after began work at Open Space as a Program Coordinator,
thanks to an Early Career Development grant from the BCAC. At Open Space she curated Forestrial Brain and was Assistant Curator to co-curators France Trépanier, Michelle Jacques, and Doug Jarvis for Deconstructing Comfort. Since 2017 she has been working with Primary Colours/Couleurs primaires as a Programs Coordinator and is grateful for the mentorship from France Trépanier and Chris Creighton-Kelly. She is of Italian, English, and Czech ancestry.
What We Do
Primary Colours/Couleurs primaires imagines, generates and disseminates new knowledge about the state of the arts in Canada. We do this in various ways:
We bring IBPoC artists together in unconventional formats to converse, critique and develop new understandings of their art practices in the frame of the existing art system. We also explore the possibilities of institutional change as part of renewing this system. The first major gathering took place on Lekwungen territory near Victoria BC in September 2017.
2. Public Presentations
We present the work of Primary Colours/Couleurs primaires by invitation. This is done as knowledge sharing and, hopefully, as a starting point for discussions that can lead to local incubation projects. For example, we have presented in Victoria, Vancouver, Banff, Saskatoon, Winnipeg, Six Nations near Brantford, Toronto, Moncton and Halifax.
3. Incubation Projects
We encourage sparks from our gatherings to regenerate projects in local communities when participants return to their home territories, cities and towns. From the inception, we built in modest seed-funds to keep those sparks alive.
We designed, directed and facilitated two residencies at Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity during April and May 2018. 37 artists attended and they participated in Indigenous welcoming ceremonies; round-tables; public artists’ talks and cabaret performances; conversations and more formal discussions; incubation project planning and networking.
5. Analysis of Arts Landscape
We observe and comment on the context of art making. We consider these current factors:
the 94 Calls to Action from the TRC; the changing demographics, both in Indigenous communities and among immigrants of colour; the presence of Indigenous artists/scholars in mainstream arts institutions; the new funding model of the Canada Council for the Arts and its impact on provincial and municipal funders; the digital presence that surrounds contemporary artistic practice at every stage - creative research; conception; production; presentation; dissemination, documentation, archiving; and finally the emerging art system beyond 2020.
6. ‘Research’ Commissions
We interpret ‘research’ in broad, comprehensive ways. We commission podcasts, articles, videos and essays. We include artists, art historians, curators and artistic directors, arts scholars and critics, story-tellers, writers and Elders.
We recently launched this website in May 2019. We generate and assemble new knowledge - both academic and popular; both contemporary and historical; both analytical and story-telling - that sheds light on the concerns of artists involved with Primary Colours/Couleurs primaires. This knowledge and various conversations about it are housed on our website. We also provide links to other sources.
How We Work
Primary Colours/Couleurs primaires strives to do our work using strategies of decolonization. We recognize that these strategies are not always self-evident as they are being developed by many artists and arts academics. These strategies are not fixed in stone, rather they are in process. There is no quick fix or trusted recipe for decolonization in the arts. We take into account the following:
1. Decolonizing Strategies
- artist-centred: we declare that IBPoC artists and their work are at the centre of our concerns
- poly-vocality: we honour multiple perspectives, searching for what is right, not who is right
- sharing embodied knowledge: we advocate for no ‘experts’, no panels, no keynotes
- planned improvisation: we create safe(r) contexts for the unexpected and the spontaneous
- foresight: we encourage a vision of abundance, not scarcity, for collective capacity building
2. Indigenous-influenced protocols
We do not claim the pretence that we work with Indigenous protocols. However we do affirm that our protocols are Indigenous-influenced:
- land acknowledgement which includes a welcoming and, if possible, a history of the territory
- creating space for the importance of ceremony - both Indigenous and other traditions
- presence of Elders
- honouring of artists through presentations and awards
- speaking in languages other than the colonial, official languages of English and French
- witnessing, when appropriate
3. The 5 R’s
We try to work with these values. They were developed in Decolonizing Methodologies by
Linda Tuhiwai Smith and Research is Ceremony by Shawn Wilson as Indigenous-based methodologies for research. We find that they are applicable to arts activities: projects, collaborations, arts presentation, arts policy, community engagement, research to name a few.
4. The 4 Inters
We do not work in isolation solely on decolonization in the arts. Clearly, this is our primary focus but we recognize that IBPoC cultural/racial issues are connected to historical injustices and to contemporary discourses about equity and systemic discrimination. So we are mindful of these considerations in our work:
5. The 4 Phases
From its inception, the initiative was designed in four phases. We are now working on the possibility of holding a large gatherings every three years - 2017, 2020 and 2023.
- Phase 1: Preparation, local meetings across Canada and research (2016)
- Phase 2: 150 artists at a gathering on Lekwungen territory (2017)
- Phase 3: Generation and dissemination of emerging knowledge (2017-18-19 & beyond)
- Phase 4: Incubation projects and new initiatives (2018-19 and beyond)