Decolonising settler art: Michael J. Farnan, Representing Wilderness: Community, Collaboration, and Artistic Practice, PhD dissertation, University of Western Ontario, 2016
Abstract: This dissertation project serves as an inquiry into Canadian representational practices and discourses surrounding colonialism, wilderness, nature and nationhood. The written thesis presented here is part of a multidisciplinary project that also comprised of an art exhibition held at Western’s McIntosh Gallery, from June 3rd to Junes 25th, 2016. This paper, alongside the drawing, sculpture, and videos created for my exhibition, examine depictions of nature and nation in Canada through an analysis of antimodernism, primitivism, and a seeking of the spiritual connected to constructions of “white wilderness” and the spatial imaginary of Canada’s colonial frontier. This paper also explores ways in which decolonial art and theory seeks to challenge those same configurations of identity and power, including the development of settler-based decolonizing strategies aimed at unsettling dominant political and cultural narratives.
Specifically in relation to my own art practice, this means challenging the enduring colonial legacies of Canada’s settler past and the contemporary representational practices that continue to privilege and empower colonial constructions of space and place. This
dissertation project proposes a collaborative-based research practice that operates in relation to issues of the local, domestic, and lived practices of people and their interaction with the environment. As such, this paper examines mainstream articulations of nature and nation in Canada through historicized interpretations of dominant Settler/First Nation narratives and demonstrates how an understanding of this history becomes vitally important when trying to achieve performative, transformative, and collaborative understandings of the colonial experience that continues to define life in Canada.
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