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  • 1 Department of Art History, Concordia University, 1455 boul. de Maisonneuve O., Montreal, QC H3G 1M8
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Abstract

The writing of art history entails a constant negotiation of the past, including the past of art's own narratives. Organizers of the recent CIHA conference “How to write art history – national, regional or global?” have called into question the epistemological effects of art history's traditional geographical divisions, most particularly its emphasis on the nation state. There are compelling reasons for this challenge. In formerly colonial nations, for example, the arbitrary division of territory amongst colonizing nation states created unities that are as untenable aesthetically as they have proven to be ethnically and geographically. Yet the past cannot simply be supplanted. The historical marginalization of art made within formerly colonial nations has produced an ongoing need for reclamation, restitution, and recognition. This paper draws on the example of historical art made by women in Canada in order to examine both the limitations and the continued potential of nation-based art histories. This focus on women's art production is not tangential to questions of nationhood, for in addressing issues of geopolitical reterritorialization, art history encounters broader challenges pertaining to the role of identity in redressing power imbalances.

  • 1. See also the essays in James Elkins (ed.), Is Art History Global? New York and London, 2007.

  • 2. It is important to recognize that while Canada is a “formerly colonial nation” with respect to Great Britain, the process of decolonization is far from complete for the indigenous peoples living in Canada. In 2003, the National Gallery of Canada rehang its collection of historical Canadian art in order to permanently include objects of aboriginal cultural expression. The rehanging has been widely understood as an attempt to include indigenous art and artifacts within the canon of Canadian art, but in the context of this discussion it is worth noting that the retitling of these rooms (now called the Galleries of Canadian and Aboriginal Art) still preserves a distinction between the two terms of identification. See Anne Whitelaw, “The Limits of Inclusion in Canadian Art History”, unpublished conference paper, Universities Art Association of Canada, Waterloo, Canada, 1 November 2007.

  • 3. For a useful summary of these debates and their participants see Alison Stone, “Essentialism and Anti-Essentialism in Feminist Philosophy”, Journal of Moral Philosophy 1, 2 (2004), 23553.

  • 4. Stone, 143.

  • 5. Denise Riley , ‘Am I That Name?’: Feminism and the Category of ‘Women’ in History, London, 1982, p. 112.

  • 6. Jordana Pomerory , ed. Intrepid Women: Victorian Artists Travel, Aldershot, UK and Burlington, VT, 2005. Pomeroy's willingness to discuss Canadian art is signaled by her inclusion of the work of Frances Anne Hopkins, and a brief mention of Anna Jameson's sketches.

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  • 7. Stone, 153. The idea of women as having a genealogy is also developed in Riley, 1–17, and by Judith Butler in Gender Trouble, London, 1990.