The Reel Norval Morrisseau: What does the National Film Board of Canada’s Paradox of Norval Morrisseau Teach Us?
Assist Prof. Carmen Robertson.
The National Film Board of Canada (NFB) promotes itself as an educative force in Canada. The NFB’s mandate to bring Canada to Canadians motivated a ‘teaching’ agenda inherent in this and other films about contemporary Indigenous artists. In so doing, it provided Canadians with one of the few sources for information about contemporary Aboriginal art until the 1980s. By interpreting the visual language of the film ‘Paradox of Norval Morrisseau’ (1974) I will critically assess how the NFB framed contemporary Aboriginal art and artists and presented it to viewers.
Shot in 1974, ‘The Paradox of Norval Morrisseau’, a 29-minute film, introduces viewers to arguably Canada’s most original artist. The film’s overt curriculum Canadians showcases one of our cultural icons. However, considering the institutional authority of the NFB to teach Canadians about Norval Morrisseau, couched in the realist and supposedly objective platform of documentary, a confusing montage of signifiers emerges. The film serves up a number of racially stereotypical constructions, clearly demonstrating to viewers the soundness of Canadian assimilationist and colonizing policies with regard to Canada’s First Nations.
Employing an interdisciplinary method that includes documentary film theory, post-structural semiotics, Lacanian psychoanalytical theory and discourse analysis a critical unpacking of the film occurs. In the end, the lessons imparted in the film have little to do with the art of Morrisseau, and instead have more to do with a complex discourse of Canadian identity, racism, and the largely unchallenged authority of the NFB.
Assist Prof. Carmen Robertson (Canada)
Assistant Professor of Art History
Department of Indian Fine Arts
First Nations University of Canada
I teach Indigenous art history at First Nations University of Canada. I am currently a doctoral candidate in the Education department in the division of Curriculum, Teaching and Learning at University of Calgary. My research involves critically analysing the National Film Board of Canada’s constructions of contemporary Aboriginal and Inuit Art and Artists through their authoritative and didactic documentary productions.
(30 min. Conference Paper, English)