Q&A with Acadie mythique curator Harlan Johnson

New exhibit celebrates Acadian and Cajun culture

Q&A with Acadie mythique curator Harlan Johnson
Scenes from history: Rémi Belliveau’s “Robert Monckton tenant le livre” and “Portrait de Joseph Broussard dit Beausoleil,” 2014.

Nova Scotian ex-pat Harlan Johnson isn't a curator by trade, but with small grants from Dawson College and Concordia University, the painter and professor has realized his dream of an exhibit featuring the works of Acadian and Cajun artists. Johnson gives us the scoop on the project, Acadie mythique, that had artists from as far away as Louisiana sending their contributions through the mail.

Where did the idea for this come from?
It partially emerged from my own work, a series of paintings I was doing maybe five years ago. The paintings were kind of like geographical mini portraits of places in the maritimes, they included popular culture and history based around maps and cartography. The fact that I was doing this work for myself made me think of the possibility of doing a show that referenced history of Acadians. It must've been 2013 that I dreamed it up.

The premise of the show is to establish a collaboration. To somehow get artists to reimagine or respond to that kind of content in their own ways.

I was inspired by the idea of mail art, artists sending art through the mail, art that can be disassembled and reassembled with a basic set of instructions.

Why is SMU the chosen venue?
At the very beginning of the inception of the project, [director] Robin Metcalfe agreed to support me. SMU is the largest venue for the project.

How were the participating artists selected?
Most of them are notable in their regions or notable in the cities where their from. Some who I know because they were notable, some I knew personally. For the rest of it, it was all completely word of mouth. Asking artists about other artists who would respond well to the particular constraints of the show.

Is it important that American and Cajun artists were invited to participate?
I invited them because really having been to Louisiana quite a lot I'm pretty aware of their culture. I have a lot of friends there who are visual artists. The [Acadian] Congress was taking place in Maine and I wanted to have artists from that region. I didn't know much about the local culture of northern Maine, but needed to have artists relevant to people of that locality.

What media are represented in the show?
There's a variety of work, quite a bit of painting, there's some drawings, some mixed media installation work, some video and there's some video combined with mixed-media two-dimensional stuff. There's not a lot of free-standing sculplture. We just asked artists to use easy and transportable materials. There's some photography too. I wanted the show to be popularly accessible but also some contemporary artists who would have their own free reign to interpret it. I don't think it's a difficult to access show. As an expatriate Nova Scotian who has lived away from the province for a long time, it was an interesting way for me to re-engage with the region.

Acadie mythique
Saint Mary's University Art Gallery, 923 Robie Street, To November 15