At a press conference Tuesday afternoon, Simon Brault, Director and CEO of the Canada Council for the Arts, announced that a collaboration of Indigenous designers joining under the name UNCEDED was selected to represent Canada at the 2018 Venice Architecture Biennale. The group was selected from a shortlist that included Ja Architecture Studio of Toronto, Patkau Architects of Vancouver, and Scapegoat Journal of Toronto.
UNCEDED is led by renowned architect, philosopher, and human rights activist Douglas Cardinal, and is co-curated by Gerald McMaster (curator, author, and professor of Indigenous Visual Culture and Critical Curatorial Studies at OCAD University) and David Fortin (architect and Incoming Director of the McEwen School of Architecture at Laurentian University). Joining them is a team of roughly 18 Indigenous designers from across Canada and the US representing the numerous cultures of Turtle Island, the Indigenous name for North America. Included in the group is Patrick Stewart, Chairman of the Indigenous Task Force, Associate Professor at the McEwen School of Architecture, and the first person of First Nations ancestry elected as President of the Architectural Institute of British Columbia.
Praising the group of designers, Brault stated that, "there is likely no greater priority for Canadians than building a new relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Peoples. The project that will represent Canada at the Biennale reflects our country's preoccupation with reconciliation, and it forces us to question the neutrality of our built environments and the land where we rest."
"This is a way that we can show the world the beauty, the vitality, the strength, and the resilience of our Indigenous People in surviving a terrible history, but rising above that", stated Cardinal. He stressed the cultural precedent of First Nations People living and working together in harmony in a non-hierarchical society that is reflected in Indigenous art and architecture, and how this is an opportunity to showcase that culture on a larger scale. "Once you get a bunch of architects around the table, it will get messy", joked McMaster, "but it's a collectivity, that's the thinking that we are going for". He explained that many different cultures, each with their own histories, are represented in the group, and it creates an interesting narrative connecting past and present.
The 2018 Biennale is directed by Irish firm Grafton Architects, whose theme of Freespace aims to "reveal the capacity of architecture to connect with history, time, place, and people" and highlights the capacity of architecture to "nurture and support a meaningful connection between people and place". The selection of UNCEDED and the representation of Canada by Indigenous designers fits nicely within that theme.
The 16th Venice Architecture Biennale will run from May 26 until November 25, 2018, and is expected to host more than 300,000 visitors during its six-month run.