Quebec artist Cynthia Girard-Renard is well known for her offbeat approach to her visual, performance, and literary works. The recent series of satirical portraits brought together for this exhibition feature anthropomorphized animals, which are given voice in an accompanying mobile. Raised to the rank of historical figures according to the hierarchy of painting genres, these animals joyously display their objections as they call for revolt or unmask spirals into authoritarianism – following in the footsteps of their illustrious predecessors Hannah Arendt, Frantz Fanon, and Donna Haraway. By using humour, caricature, and inversion of situations, along with bright colours and childlike motifs, Girard-Renard creates a sense of surprise among viewers, who must look closely to decipher the playlet that she thinks up in order to comment on the evils of society.
The title of this exhibition, which is also that of the group of paintings, is a nod to Jean Rouch’s anthropological film The Mad Masters (1955), in which the filmmaker made a creative and personal documentary – with the active participation of his subjects – of the ritual practices of followers of the Hauka cult in Accra, at the time the colonial capital of Ghana. By imitating and appropriating the symbols of colonial power during their religious ceremonies, the Africans, well aware that they were being filmed, made British customs – very familiar to Westerners – seem so exotic that they were no longer associated with the violence for which they are, in fact, an affirmation. What is played out in this ambiguous theatre in which imitation verges on brazenness? For it is in fact through the diversion of symbols liberated by improbable and irreverent associations that the power of the Other – animals, the land, migrants – to act or resist is manifested. This productive tension provides the spark for Girard-Renard’s works and serves as a principle of articulation in the festive mash-up that she stages.
La Fontaine’s fables and Perrault’s tales were clearly touted as pedagogical narratives, intended for transmission of a generally accessible moral, but Girard-Renard rejects this overly self-assured didactic posture. The hungry mouths, the staring eyes, the characters floating against a background that could suck them in or spit them out, and the almost sickeningly sweet colours give us a glimpse of malaise: that of a privileged, individualistic society focused on its needs, engaged in an obscene process of exploitation, and, through its self-devouring actions, gaily rushing headlong into a wall!
Cynthia Girard-Renard received her MFA from Goldsmiths College, London, UK (1998) She works and lives in Montreal where she teaches in visual arts. For more than 20 years, she has been actively exhibiting in Canada and internationally. The artist has been the recipient of grants from the Canada Council for the Arts and the Conseil des arts et des lettres du Québec to partake in residencies in London and Berlin. Girard-Renard’s work is found in the collections of the Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal, the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, the Musée national des beaux-arts du Québec, the Canadian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Carleton University Art Gallery, as well as many private collections. Cynthia Girard-Renard is represented by Galerie Hugues Charbonneau in Montréal.