Artists and scholars come together to re-tell history for Canada 150

atwood, clarke
Author Margaret Atwood and poet George Elliott Clarke are featured in public conversations at the National Gallery and University of Ottawa

Celebrated author and University of Toronto alumnus Margaret Atwood and U of T professor and poet George Elliott Clarke will join other renowned artists and scholars to challenge and re-narrate the history of Canada in its sesquicentennial year.

In two separate public events in Ottawa, Atwood and Clarke, together with artist Kent Monkman, cellist Cris Derksen, and environmentalist Leah Kostamo will take the stage to present their work for Restorying Canada: Religion and Public Memory. The three-day conference will also bring in scholars from across Canada and beyond to examine how religion has been remembered and forgotten in Canada's history.

Two public events anchor the conference:

  • Decolonizing the Canon on Thursday May 18 at the National Gallery of Canada features Clarke – Canada’s poet Laureate and the E.J. Pratt Professor of Canadian Literature in U of T's department of English – Juno Award-nominated Cree-Mennonite cellist Derksen, and internationally renowned visual artist Monkman. Each artist will work within his or her genre to challenge what it means and feels to remember the country’s history, and re-narrate and resist the colonial story of Canada.
  • The Future of Religion in Canada: Utopia or Dystopia? on Friday May 19 at the University of Ottawa features a conversation between Atwood and Christian environmental activist Kostamo. It explores the rich, complex portrayal of religion as a powerful, yet ambiguous force with the potential to both renew and shatter, bringing liberation and oppression, hope and fear. While Atwood’s writing across five decades – including the now televised The Handmaid’s Tale – explores the past, present and dys/utopian future of religion in Canada, Kostamo provides a counter example of religious commitments to environmental restoration through the lens of Christianity.

“The public events offer a curated provocation to the conference proceedings,” said Professor Pamela Klassen of U of T's department for the study of religion, who co-organized the conference with Emma Anderson at the University of Ottawa and Hillary Kaell at Concordia University for Canada 150. “We’re in a time when Margaret Atwood’s novel The Handmaid’s Tale is being revitalized on screen, while its warnings about threats to women’s freedom are coming true in legislatures and houses of congress around the world.

“My hope is that audiences will gain a deeper understanding of how religion has shaped the ways we imagine and inhabit the nation of Canada, at a moment when reconciliation, decolonization, nation-to-nation relations with Indigenous nations, and the spectre of new kinds of religious prejudice are all in play,” said Klassen.

Tickets for Decolonizing the Canon and The Future of Religion in Canada: Utopia or Dystopia? are $18 for adults and $12 for students, plus taxes, for each event.

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