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Beauty Queens

December 10, 2004 - December 10, 2004

What is it about islands that fires the imagination? From treasure islands to gulag archipelagos, islands have been invested with a potent mix of myth and reality, fiction and fact. Romanticized and promoted as places of ideal perfection, of intimacy, retreat and renewal, islands also offer stark realities of exile, isolation, seclusion, ecological pressures, and social compression. Their identities injected with silicon slickness and simplified for mass tourism markets, nowhere is the interplay of false and real more intense: islands are beauty queens through and through.

Newfoundland, Prince Edward Island and Vancouver Island are vastly different, in terms of the unique narratives of immigration, geography, history and politics which have shaped them. Physically isolated yet characterised by their own urban-rural tensions, such islands are a microcosm for examining local cultural production within globalised conditions. The illusion and fantasy of island life, the ideals of privacy and escape and of meditative solitude, are at odds with the experience of exile, its attendant loneliness, and threat of social breakdown. These unique economies illustrate the need for social continuity and the overarching theme of waiting for rescue or return to collective social experience, as seen in literary and cinematic examples such as Treasure Island or Castaway. Through the dialogue developed both within Canada and internationally, Beauty Queens extends through its research concepts of identity and cultural autonomy within the unique situation of island experience.

Drawn from three Canadian and three international islands, this exhibition presents thirteen artists whose work emerges from and reflects on their island settings: Gerald Beaulieu and Judith Scherer of Prince Edward Island; Jim Hansen and Barb Hunt of Newfoundland; Marianne Nicolson and John Boehme of Vancouver Island Island; Dan Shipsides and Daniel Jewesbury of Ireland; Susan Dayal, Wendy Nanan and Chris Cozier from Trinidad; and Gaye Chan and Melinda Morey from Hawaii. Taking up their positions simultaneously at the centres and margins, the artists in Beauty Queens collectively explore the conditions of island cultural production, and in the process, their common concerns of identity, history, tradition, environment, culture, distance and communication are revealed.

The exhibition catalogue features curatorial essays that examine ideas of spectacle, global/local and the literary imagination in the conceptualization of islands, as well as writings by pre-eminent Canadian authors Michael Crummey, Alistair MacLeod and Audrey Thomas.

Click here for John G. Boehme’s Trade Route (performance on November 27)

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