Doris McCarthy Gallery at University of Toronto Scarborough

for there are many stories here

they'd forgotten entirely that story and reality are one and the same.

-Leanne Betasamosake Simpson, gezhizhwazh

This exhibition engages the work of Andrea Chung, Doris McCarthy, Ana Mendieta, Shelley Niro,  Nicholas Poussin, Elizabeth Simcoe, Leanne Betasamosake Simpson and Alize Zorlutuna along with the artwork present in the Cueva de El Castillio in a conversation that spans some 40,800 years between the contemporary, historic, and prehistoric artists and writers. Their stories take the form of archive ephemera, reproductions, books and diaries, soundscape and video, and pursue self-determination as a form of resistance and remembrance. 


The exhibition itself is separated into two portions: a screening room and an expanded reading room. From the dialogue between these two portions spring the questions: What happens when we rearrange the current story of art history in favour of one that is rhizomatic, multi-generational, and feminist, one that accounts for local history as well as its place in the broader, global, narrative? When we re-examine art (hi)story through this lens, what is possible? These questions frame the exhibition for there are many stories here


1. The Expanded Reading Room


Leanne Betasamosake Simpson's book "Islands of Decolonial Love" (2013) is held open to the short retelling of gezhizhwazh. In it an aunty tells the tale to a young man. Gezhizhwazh is a character sometimes featured in Anishinaabe Wiindigo stories. Translated into English, her name means ‘to try to cut.’ [1] She is a decolonising force! In these stories, the greedy, cannibalistic beast, Wiindigo, is defeated by gezhizhwazh when she sacrifices herself to it in order to save the Anishinaabe people from Wiindigo’s wrath. [2]


In her version, Leanne speaks to the tension between colonial, patriarchal language and one's own way of speaking, the intergenerational sharing of knowledge and reproduction of that knowledge by selectively providing translations for the Anishinaabemowin words used.  She foregrounds the possibility of change and the ability to start at the beginning— even when one is in the middle. The narrative also addresses the complexities of telling, sharing, and revisiting stories. Leanne reminds us that stories impact reality. She shows us that to make, preserve, and share stories can be an act of agency and self-determination; that to tell one’s story can be a political act and that the means and ease by which it can be accessed is of political significance.  


Doris McCarthy, the famed Canadian painter, is the namesake of the gallery. The Doris McCarthy Gallery (DMG) at the University of Toronto, Scarborough is home to her fonds. Of this ephemera are boxes upon boxes of her calendars, diaries, and sketchbooks from childhood onwards that document her daily life, keepsakes, letters, and even her taxes. It is the archived material, not her creative works that are the focus of our interest. In this exhibition, her avid self-historicizing is interpreted as a method of resistance against time and the potential of being forgotten. Though primarily a painter and less known for her writing, Doris McCarthy also wrote, not one, but three memoirs. The boxes in the archive can be viewed as chapters of her carefully cataloged life and have been moved from their storage vault and into the gallery proper. At once the effort of collecting, maintaining, preserving and storing a single person’s history on both the part of Doris herself and the Gallery become evident. Also present is an excerpt from Doris’s diary, a handwritten letter and a lock of her hair. 


Ten kilometers from the DMG, on the Scarborough Bluffs, is where one can find McCarthy’s home, Fool’s Paradise. Doris was extremely passionate about the Bluffs and was active in their preservation, often taking photographs documenting the patterns and effects of its erosion. Fool’s Paradise, too, was donated to the Ontario Heritage Trust and is kept as an artist residency. By giving her home and collection to Ontario Heritage Trust and the University of Toronto Scarborough, McCarthy remains in control of her life, what can be remembered about her, how it can be discovered and where it can be accessed. 


Elizabeth Simcoe, the wife of Canada’s first Lieutenant General, Governor John Graves Simcoe, gave Doris’s beloved bluffs the name they have today. Elizabeth kept a diary in which she detailed her time in Canada, including the founding of colonial towns. In one entry we find an encounter with the landscape that is now known as the Scarborough Bluffs:



4th— We met with some good natural meadows and several ponds. The trees are mostly of the poplar kind, covered with wild vines, and there are some fir. On the ground were everlasting peas creeping in abundance, of a purple color. I am told they are good to ear when boiled, our ride beyond the peninsula on the sands of the north shore of Lake Ontario till we were impeded large trees on the beach. We then walked some distance till we met with Mr. Grants (the surveyor’s) boat. It was not much larger than a canoe, but we ventured into it, and after rowing a mile we came within sight of what is named, in the map, the highlands of Toronto. The shore is extremely bold, and has the appearance of chalk cliffs, but I believe they are only white sand. They appeared so well that we talked of building a summer residence there and calling it Scarborough.



The colonial gesture of renaming a place in memory of the colonizer’s home is made visible in the gallery and speaks to the stories held and withheld by a name. "The Diary of Elizabeth Simcoe," published by William Briggs in 1911, is present in the gallery and is open to the page quoted above.


Also included in Elizabeth's diaries are sketches of her whereabouts. She often made maps, drawings and paintings during her travels.  A reproduction of one such watercolour, Unidentified Landscape (179?), is displayed in the gallery. It depicts a rough rock face lined with trees that seem to be receding into waters. The potential decade that this watercolour was painted in is consistent with her travels to Scarborough, then called York. This may be an early depiction of the Scarborough Bluffs.


In 1982, the same year that Doris McCarthy painted Hoodoo's at Dinosaur Park, the artist Ana Mendieta carved two abstracted silhouettes of the female body into the Scarborough Bluffs. In preparation for these pieces, Ana made a drawing on the back of a map of Guild park. [3]  This drawing doubles as a map to the site where she made the reliefs. A reproduction of it is visible in the gallery. The book "Unseen Mendieta" by Olga Viso (2002) is also present in the gallery. In it are the only published photos of the artworks.


Ana made what she called Earth-Body works.  She would often travel from the USA to Mexico or beyond to embed her body or the female form into the landscape. Ana would, for instance, cover her lying body with stones or use gunpowder to outline her body and light it from a distance. She would document these works in a series of photographic close-ups, the piles and residue left for the passerby to find by chance. These were neither the grand earthworks of her peers nor isolated performances, but a distinct combination of the two. 


While the book and map document the existence of her Scarborough-based Earth-Body works, the works themselves were subject to the forces of nature, and in their physical state resisted against historicization. With Ana Mendieta's untimely death, the apparent disorganization of the Guild exhibition, and the vast erosion of the bluffs themselves, these artworks that were not preserved became myth. It was not known until recently whether the reliefs were, in fact, more than a rumour. 


Artist Alize Zorlutuna took up the quest to find a trace of them in The Presence of Absence: Searching For Mendieta (2014) and the sound work For Ana, For Earth (2014).  Her compilation of works present in the Expanded Reading Room document Zorlutuna’s research around and attempt to locate the very same carved reliefs. This (re)search is displayed in three parts: through a map, a soundscape and a collection of archive material and documentation. Encased in large vitrines but still on the floor of the gallery are Alize’s diary recording her experience, and other ephemera are accompanied by gently torn snippets and notes from her findings. Together the oral storytelling, reading of the pictorial map and written word commenting on her experience come together to create a vibrant and visceral account.


In The Presence of Absence: Searching For Mendieta (2014), the artist sleuthed her way through archives and the landscape to find the mythical artworks. The map, hand-drawn on the gallery wall using clay and sumac, details Alize’s trek. As a Turkish-Canadian settler, sumac holds particular relevance for the artist because one strain of the plant is native to North America while another hails from Turkey. Sumac, then, creates a transnational link that carries within it the stories of this land and Alize’s heritage. Accompanying the wall drawing is a display of archival research and a soundscape that gently fills the gallery foyer. 


The sound work, For Ana, For Earth (2014) transports us to the Scarborough Bluffs, where the artist is searching for Mendieta's reliefs. We are both here in the gallery and there on the bluffs, at once listening to one artist’s work while hearing about another’s.  It is in this soundscape that we become privy to the connections between Zorlutuna and Mendieta’s practices. While contemplating the question herself, Zorlutuna asks us, “What is your relationship to this land?” By doing so, Zorlutuna resists the colonial notion that one's relationship to the land they inhabit is simply one of ownership, and prompts a more in-depth consideration of one's personal relation to the Scarborough landscape and also their historical connection to Canada as a whole.


Mendieta would physically and symbolically embed herself into various, significant landscapes drawing a connection between her body and the location. Zorlutuna, like Mendieta, carves an ancient symbol onto the surface of the Scarborough Bluffs. Where Mendieta replicated her own body and then the more generic,  primal and graphic interpretation of the female form, Zorlutuna etches the Middle Eastern symbol, the Nazar. This symbol mimics the carving made by Mendieta in shape but not in meaning. The Nazar protects against the Evil Eye and by using a family heirloom, the ring handed down to her by her grandmother, to carve the shape into the rock, Zorlutuna casts an ancient and protective spell upon the bluffs. 


As the edges erode to become steeper, the Scarborough Bluffs, which are present in the artworks of Ana Mendieta, Doris McCarthy, Elizabeth Simcoe and Alize Zortlutna, both mark time and recede from it. They are visible records of geologic change and hold the stories of a particular time within their stratigraphic stripes. Each line is a record of a distinct period yet is subject to rapid and inconsistent decay. The grains and detritus of the rock wall leave its surface to recalibrate amongst the waves of Lake Ontario, coming together to shape a new landmass: Toronto Island. These bits of old come together to create something new. Likewise, stories can relay the past in ways that shape the present. With this in mind, the Bluffs provide us with a model for multigenerational storytelling.


Treaties is the second photograph in a series of three digital photographs from Shelley Niro’s Border Series (2008). It depicts outstretched arms that clasp together. The hand gesture reflects the possibility of solidarity while the outstretched arms, though reaching to hold one another, create a borderline. Above the holding hands, a wampum belt grounds the image. Wampum belts are a method of recording used by the Haudenosaunee to narrate history, traditions, and laws. Treaty offers us a story of old, perhaps one of Canada's first colonial narratives, but also shows us something new. It presents the border as an imaginary line, one that can be tangibly delineated by the bodies it claims to hold. But Treaty also offers us possibility— one can view the border as an impassible boundary or as a place to reach across in solidarity and make a connection.


Mirroring the installation of gezhizhwazh, on the opposite end of the gallery, is a book nook presented in partnership with the Canadian, children’s book, publishing company Groundwood Books. Two shelves line the walls filled with children’s books including "Alego" written and illustrated by Ningeokuluk Teevee as well as "Migrant" written by Maxine Trottier and illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault. Large plush pillows and a quilt are on the floor. Readers are welcome to move them a cozy corner of the Expanded Reading Room and take along any of the books installed in the exhibition. When the reader finishes reading, a docent will return it to the installation. 


2. The Screening Room


Andrea Chung's video Untitled (Agatha Tears) from 2009 is an excavation into a fictional lineage. With each diminishing image, a part of the Caribbean story is revealed and then sealed again. First, a picture of a woman sitting topless on a beach is immediately ripped away to show what appears to be a woman from a brightly coloured magazine spread. This spread, too, is peeled away to reveal a black and white photo of a woman from several decades past, then another family is exposed; finally, an aged portrait of a woman stares briefly at the viewer.


The video then reverses. The rips and tears mend, and we see the woman on the beach again. She now appears to be a tourist sitting on the Caribbean shores. As her tranquil image is torn away by ghost-like, invisible hands so too is the simplified view of paradise. The tears make visible the hidden generations of women who have laboured for that land.  Through the continuous ripping and mending, Untitled (Agatha Tears) makes visible the struggle to maintain awareness of buried histories. This work, along with the reproduction of the cave drawings and the miniature of Nicholas Poussin 1638- 39 painting, Arcadian Shepherds, ground the exhibition as a re-working of art history.


In a curatorial gesture, a miniaturized version of Poussin's famed painting Arcadian Shepherds has been placed on the floor, leaning against a full-sized reproduction of cave art from La Cueva de El Castillo. Both images, the cave, and the painting depict what was at one time thought to be the very beginning of art history. In Poussin's picture are four symmetrically placed figures, three shepherd men, and an onlooking angel woman. The shepherds are kneeling at a tombstone, and one is pointing to the shadow made by the hand of another shepherd as he scrutinizes the stone’s inscription. The shadow, in effect, paints the hand onto the rock. This is thought to be an interpretation of the origins of art and the very first painting. 


The cave, La Cueva de El Castillo, Spain, is where 40 800-year-old crowds of dots, geometric formations resembling public spaces and maps, animal silhouettes and hands stencils similar to the shadowed hand painted on the tombstone of Poussin's painting mark the walls.  The hand stencils present in this cave, like others in the geographic region, are relatively small. Archaeologist Dean Snow of Pennsylvania State University and a team have analyzed the images of, and negative spaces left by, hands in caves throughout the Cantabrian region of France and Spain. Snow and his team took measurements of each digit on the hand stencils (the negative space of a hand surrounded by pigment). When the size ratios were compared to a database of measurements from large populations of living people they found that 75 percent of the hand stencils were female, 15 percent were most likely adolescent, and only 10 percent were found to be those of adult males. 


All of the past speculations attribute the hands to adult men, adolescent boys, male pygmies, or shamans but never once to women or children. This radical finding suggests that women and children were active cultural participants and that the scholarship on prehistoric art also functions under speculative, patriarchal norms and that historically relevant conclusions have been made solely on cultural bias and without evidence. These are the norms that Poussin shows us in Arcadian Shepherds, in which men are at the centre of artistic creation as women (an angel in this case) stand by in awe of his ability. The pigments at El Castillo are now faded but the strokes and forms are still visible today.  The hand stencils indicate that whatever their purpose, females had an active role in mark making and were the most active of mark makers. 


As a place where even children had access to participate in a ritual of public mark making, for there are many stories here imagines this cave as founded on a principle of mutual respect, difference that is accounted for, and on a multiplicity of connections.  It is here that it is possible to build new and fluid narratives that do not privilege or reproduce the patriarchal man or univocal patriarchal values. What we have instead are many. Each hand, in its stenciling, leaves not a trace of its maker but affirms their absence. It is the anti-signatory mark, the mark that is individual but also collective amongst others. The hand stencil, then, marks the maker but also makes space for many more in its absence. In this way, it alerts the contemporary viewer to the many more stories (t)here. 

Whether oral, pictorial or written in ink, beading, or typed, whether personal like those written in a diary or found in a photograph, cultural or  historical, we find that stories are not merely versions of events that have happened in the ‘real world’, but are the “means by which events are interpreted, made tellable, or even liveable.” [4] To say that there are many stories here is to acknowledge the political efficacy of stories and the multiplicity of lifeways surrounding and included in this place, the DMG in the place now referred to as Scarborough, Ontario, their specificity, and their relationship to the broader art historical narrative.






[1]  Roger Roulette interviewed by Maureen Matthews, CBC  Ideas Transcript,  “Mother Earth,” Toronto, ON, June 5, 2003, 6. As quoted by Leanne (Betasamosake) Simpson in Dancing on Our Turtle’s Back, (ARP Books: Winnipeg 2015), 71.

[2] Leanne Simpson, 73.

[3] The reliefs were exhibited at the exhibition Contemporary Outdoor Sculpture at The Guild, in Scarborough On., curated by Sorel Etrog. 


[4] Brownwyn Davies, ‘The Concept of Agency: a Feminist Poststructuralist Analysis” The International Journal of Social and Cultural Practice no. 30 (1991) 42 – 55.


DMG at University of Toronto Scarborough


Artists / 

Andrea ChungShelley NiroLeanne Betasamosake Simpson and Alize Zorlutuna.

Additional materials by and about Doris McCarthyAna Mendieta, Nicholas Poussin, Elizabeth Simcoe  and a reproduction of the prehistoric La Cueva de El Castillo.





Year / 



Monday April 24, 2017

Join us for story time in the cave and in the book nook! We will be reading Alego Written and illustrated by Ningeokuluk Teevee as well as Migrant Written by Maxine Trottier and illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault.

Books donated by Groundwood Books.

Sunday April 30, 2017

Free Contemporary Art Bus Tour
1– 4 pm

The tour begins at 12 noon at Koffler Gallery (Artscape Youngplace, 180 Shaw Street) and continues to the Doris McCarthy Gallery and Art Gallery of York University, returning to the Koffler Gallery by 4:15 pm. Guided tours will be offered at each venue.

The bus tour is FREE, seats are limited. To reserve, contact the Koffler Gallery at 647.925.0643 x 221 or

Sunday April 30, 2017

Curator’s Talk by Jaclyn Quaresma
1:30 pm (Exact timing of talk will depend on the arrival of the bus tour)