December 10, 2020
Garry Neill Kennedy
The Kamloops Art Gallery is honoured to have recently acquired work by Garry Neil Kennedy to our collection. Kennedy is one of Canada’s most prominent and pioneering contemporary artists. As president of the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design for 23 years (1967-1990), Kennedy established NSCAD University as a forerunner in art education. He has exhibited his work across Canada and internationally. In 2003, Kennedy was a recipient of the Order of Canada, and in 2004, he was presented with the Governor General’s Award in Visual and Media Arts.

Each letter in Kennedy’s Quid Pro Quo series is rendered on 10 unique canvases which the artist is donating to 10 public art collections across Canada. Kennedy has donated the letter “I” to the KAG’s collection. Quid Pro Quo comments on post 9/11 national security policies regarding Canadian citizens of Middle Eastern descent and the threat to their basic rights. Evoking the meaning of the phrase (something for something), Quid Pro Quo is a Latin phrase used in English to mean an exchange of goods or services, in which one transfer is contingent upon the other, "a favour for a favour." Kennedy’s work focuses on a now infamous Canadian/Syrian citizen, Maher Arar, who was intercepted by Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) agents at JFK airport in New York City while returning from a family vacation in 2001. On information provided by Canada’s Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), he was deemed a "terrorist." Arar was detained by the CIA in Syria where he was tortured for almost a year. After relentless public pressure he was released and later exonerated through a public inquiry.

For this series, Kennedy chose colours that were frequently mentioned in relation to Maher Arar in the media, such as the florescent orange of his jumpsuit and the black electrical cable with which he was beaten. Kennedy made a number of works about this subject: The Colours of Citizen Arar (2007); Redacted, (2010), an installation work at Diaz Contemporary (2012), and An Eye For An Eye (2014). These works, along with a screen-print of Quid Pro Quo, were shown in the Kamloops Art Gallery exhibition Since Then in 2017. The Gallery also worked closely with Kennedy to realize The Colours of Citizen Arar wall painting based on his specific colour index. Bringing Quid Pro Quo into the Gallery’s collection has particular significance for Kamloops residents owing to the connection to its exhibition history and given that Arar was previously a Kamloops resident. When Arar was released on October 5, 2003, 374 days after his removal to Syria, he moved to Kamloops where his wife had accepted a job as a professor at Thompson Rivers University.

Acquiring part of Quid Pro Quo represents a unique opportunity for the Kamloops Art Gallery to facilitate a work of conceptual art as part of a network of public art collections across the country. Often Kennedy’s work is temporal, existing as a wall painting for a specific time and then painted over, but by painting each letter of Quid Pro Quo on canvas and offering it to regional art collections across Canada, each letter of the painting connects these collections to each other and comments on the enduring role of collecting institutions in the legitimisation of an artistic practice. This gift also offers opportunities for cross-institutional collaboration through research, exhibition, and publication of the collected works.

Garry Neill Kennedy (Canadian, b. 1935)
latex house paint and florescent orange paint on canvas
270 x 208 cm
Installation view, AHVA Gallery, University of British Columbia
Photo: SITE Photography

View images of the collection here.

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