Review: Works by Mario Doucette | Arts & Culture | Halifax, Nova Scotia | THE COAST

Review: Works by Mario Doucette

The Acadian artist sketches historical events with fantastical flair.

click to enlarge Review: Works by Mario Doucette
“Charles de Gaulle accueil la délégation acadienne, janvier 1968” (oil on wood).

Works by Mario Doucette

Anna Leonowens Gallery
1891 Granville Street
To Oct 7

If history is a set of lies agreed upon, as Napoleon Bonaparte once said, then artists have long been complicit in those lies. Acadian artist Mario Doucette paraphrases this quote in his artist statement: "History is a lie that no one ever questions." Doucette's work seeks to do just that, exploring neglected or misrepresented histories, largely centred on the expulsion of the Acadians and the war of 1812.

In these recent works he confronts historical representations of Acadians, such as Quebecois painter Henri Beau's works and the influence of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's poem "Evangeline, a Tale of Acadie." Doucette subverts their narratives, whipping their docile figures into a frenzy. He includes his own tongue-in-cheek humour, drawing Beau's figures as sheep and Evangeline with Ziggy Stardust makeup.

He is best known for his cartoonish style—particularly his older works depicting superheroes fighting for the Acadians—but this latest series shifts to the more traditional realism of the oil paintings he references. His current show at the Anna Leonowens features one of these canvases: Clad in Roman robes, Charles de Gaulle descends a staircase to greet his Acadian visitors, who stand with a rooster at their feet.

The majority of the works are detailed pencil sketches where Doucette's cartoony style of drawing is still clear. The sketches are smart, well-researched and many are very funny, but one stands out for its severity: "La Génocide des Mi'kmaqs de la Nouvelle Écosse" is as brutal as the title would suggest; with such an overt display of violence, Doucette may be falling into the trap of many well-meaning white artists.

Though there are no superheroes on scene to assist the Mi'kmaq figures, it is clear who Doucette considers the villains. Whether this particular piece does harm or good is not as clear.

Overall this show is absolutely excellent: Thoughtful, witty and technically engaging, jumping across media and timelines. When digging through history it is not unusual to come across landmines such as this, ones you may not always be equipped to dismantle. But knowing Doucette, ever a history buff, he'll keep hitting the books.

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