Norval Morrisseau is an Anishinaabe artist whose work has helped shape Canadian art history. He is often considered the “Mishomis” or “Grandfather” of Indigenous art in Canada because of his major contributions to the Indigenous art community.
Besides helping to found the Woodland style of artwork, Norval Morrisseau was also a part of a group called the Professional Native Indian Artists Incorporated (PNIAI). The other members of the group were Jackson Beardy, Eddy Cobiness, Alex Janvier, Daphne Odjig, Carl Ray and Joseph Sanchez. These artists worked together to support each other’s art careers. Often, Indigenous artists’ works were treated more like artefacts that belonged in museums rather than displayed in art galleries. The PNIAI fought to have Indigenous artists recognized by the fine art scene in Canada and across the world.
Norval Morrisseau’s career and the formation of the PNIAI were happening at a time of great change for Indigenous peoples. In 1951, the Indian Act had gone through some major changes. The ban on traditional Indigenous ceremonies was lifted, and the pass system that forced Indigenous people to request permission whenever leaving reserve land was removed, although this practice continued in some places until as late as the 1960s. Indigenous people were given the right to vote in Canadian elections in 1960. Many (but not all) Residential schools were closed in the sixties and seventies. This is not to say that all discrimination of Indigenous peoples stopped 1960’s. However, this was a time of major social change when many Indigenous people were working together to support each other’s rights. Many people were reclaiming their Indigenous identities. Many Indigenous organizations were created in the sixties and seventies. At this time, artists like Morrisseau were paving the way for future Indigenous artists to be able to express their cultural identities and their personal art styles and still be accepted in the fine art world.
Want to learn more about Norval Morrisseau? Explore this online art book by Carmen Robertson, published by the Art Institute of Canada: Norval Morrisseau: Life & Work | Art Canada Institute (aci-iac.ca) . Parents and Teachers- this site contains some mature content- please explore before sharing with children and select appropriate pages.