(M’Chigeeng, Ontario, 1943 – M’Chigeeng, Ontario, 2005)
The North American Iceberg
Acrylic, photo-serigraph, and graphite on Plexiglas
214 x 374 cm
Purchased in 1986
National Gallery of Canada, 29515
© Estate of Carl Beam / CARCC (2018).
Photo: National Gallery of Canada
Carl Beam’s The North American Iceberg, made in 1985, ironically echoes the exhibition The European Iceberg, held at the Art Gallery of Ontario that year. It is a collage of personal and historical photographs reflecting both European and Indigenous culture, and includes various inscriptions. By combining images from different periods and places, Beam brings past and present together and underscores the cultural métissage that has shaped the North American identity. Like an iceberg, that identity is largely submerged beneath the layers of a colonial past.
Although The North American Iceberg dates to 1985, it fittingly represents 1986 here. That year, it became the first contemporary work by an Indigenous artist ever purchased by the National Gallery of Canada. Born on Manitoulin Island, in Ontario, the Ojibwa artist Carl Beam first learned about Native art while studying in British Columbia. His work is characterized by a combination of references to Aboriginal culture and history and a graphic design style akin to Pop art that recalls the American painters Jasper Johns (1930) and Robert Rauschenberg (1925-2008).