Bryce Kanbara says collaborators share credit for Governor General's art award

Bryce Kanbara says he can't take sole credit for winning a Governor General's Award in Visual and Media Arts.

The Hamilton artist and curator says he shares the honour with all of the collaborators who have influenced his wide-ranging body of work.

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The Canada Council for the Arts named the eight artists Tuesday who will each receive a $25,000 prize in recognition of their creative excellence.

In the citation for the Outstanding Contribution Award, nominator Shelley Niro praised Kanbara for using his visual talents to "make the city a culturally exciting, inviting and vibrant place to live" since 1970.

But Kanbara, whose work spans painting, sculpture and printmaking, says he draws as much inspiration from the community as he gives back through public art projects.

The curator/chair of the Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre's arts committee says his practice is shaped by the connections he's cultivated with various communities and creatives over the years.

And while he may be the one receiving a medallion, the 73-year-old says the awards acclaim is as much theirs as it is his.

"In doing what I do, I meet so many artists who I admire so much ... Most of them have a tough time just persevering," Kanbara said in a phone interview ahead of Tuesday's announcement.

"In a lot of ways, I feel privileged that I've been able to do what I do to give them a hand."

Kanbara's penchant for collaboration dates back to 1970, when he was a founding member of Hamilton Artists, Inc., which is believed to be one of Canada's first artist-run centres.

He has held curatorial positions at the Burlington Art Centre, the Art Gallery of Hamilton, the Glenhyrst Art Gallery of Brant and Toronto's Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre.

He's served in leadership roles at a number of cultural organizations, including the National Association of Japanese Canadians, the Ontario Arts Council and the Hamilton Centre for Civic Inclusion.

Kanbara has long been committed to making art more accessible, often through public installations. For example, his recurring exhibit "The Shadow Project" commemorates the 1945 atomic bombings of the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki by inviting participants to draw chalk outlines of one another on the ground.

In 2003, he became the curator and proprietor of Hamilton's You Me Gallery. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Kanbara built a wall in the middle of the gallery so the art would be easier to view through the window.

While his Japanese-Canadian heritage has always figured largely in his work, Kanbara recently became involved in a series of photography projects with the Muslim, Hindu and Indigenous communities in an effort to bridge cultural divides.

"They're projects that just arise, from my perspective, out of a necessity to make these kinds of connections and improve communications and interactions with people," said Kanbara.

"I've always felt that even with my personal art ... community gives what I do a framework that I can feel comfortable working within."

Kanbara said he plans to direct some of his prize money to maintain a property where his father lived in a Japanese village, which he makes available to other Japanese-Canadians and artists.

Also among this year's Governor General's Award in Visual and Media Arts honourees is Saidye Bronfman Award winner Lou Lynn, a Winlaw, B.C.-based artist who specializes in glass and metal sculptures.

The Artist Achievement Award winners are:

-- Yellowknife-based Inuk artist Germaine Arnaktauyok

--- Lori Blondeau, a Cree/Saulteaux/Métis artist from Saskatchewan

-- Dempsey Bob, a Terrace, B.C.-based carver who draws from the traditional style of Tahltan-Tlingit sculptural art

-- Bonnie Devine, a Toronto installation artist, whose work is influenced by Anishinaabe traditions

-- Cheryl L'Hirondelle, an interdisciplinary artist of "Cree/Halfbreed and German/Polish" ancestry, according to her biography

-- Montreal media artist Luc Courchesne

In a statement, Simon Brault, director and CEO of the Canada Council for the Arts, said this year's winners include a record number of First Nations, Inuit and Metis artists.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 23, 2021.

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