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Gardiner Museum to debut new public artwork by Santee Smith in a series of free outdoor performances

10 months ago

Talking Earth will be activated on June 10, 11, and 12 by Kaha:wi Dance Theatre

Toronto—Talking Earth, a new permanent public artwork by Tekaronhiáhkhwa / Santee Smith will be unveiled in front of the Gardiner Museum, coinciding with the opening of the International Ceramic Art Fair (ICAF), a 10-day showcase of contemporary ceramics by Canadian and international artists. Part of ArtworxTO: Toronto’s Year of Public Art 20212022, the sculpture was commissioned by the Gardiner to honour the ongoing Indigenous presence on Turtle Island.

On June 10, 11, and 12 at 9:15 pm, Talking Earth will be activated in a series of free public performances by Kaha:wi Dance Theatre on the Gardiner’s outdoor plaza, generously supported by Barry and Lindy Green. No registration is necessary.

3D mapping and projections, including photographs of the Smith family, will animate the artwork and the Museum’s façade.

The sculpture takes the form of a Rotinohnsyonni four-cornered earthen pottery vessel, fractured and partially reconstructed, with light shining through the cracks between the broken shards. The vessel symbolizes the disruption and trauma caused by colonization, including the legacy of the residential school system, assimilative policies imposed on womxn, and the crisis of Missing & Murdered Indigenous Womxn and Girls. Moving toward intactness, it evokes the process of re-assembling culture, memory, and ancestral knowledge.

“My family lineage is grounded in the reclamation of Kahnyen’kehàka pottery, initiated by my grandmother Elda “Bun” Smith. I am inspired by my grandmother’s drive to rediscover and connect to our ancient practices. Talking Earth aims to piece the shards of knowledge back together, reconstructing ancient knowledges in new forms,” said Smith.

Together, the permanent artwork and performance channel the earth’s voice and story, and more importantly, compel us to listen at this critical moment.

“Now is a time for listening. Listening to the story of the land and what is cradled and buried within Yethi’nihsténha tsyonhwentsyà:te / Mother Earth,” said Smith. “It is my hope that the work will creatively interweave community and public activation, offering a public space for teaching and reinvigorating our connection with the earth.”

Visit icaf2022.squarespace.com/talking-earth for more information.


Tekaronhiáhkhwa / Santee Smith is a multidisciplinary artist from the Kahnyen’kehàka Nation, Turtle Clan, Six Nations of the Grand River, Haldimand Treaty lands. Santee trained for six years at Canada’s National Ballet School and holds Physical Education and Psychology degrees from McMaster University and a M.A. in Dance from York University. Santee produced her first choreographic work Kaha:wi—a family creation story in 2004 and later founded Kaha:wi Dance Theatre in 2005, which has grown into an internationally renowned company. Her body of work includes 14 productions, over 30 short works for stage and film/television and numerous commissions. Santee’s artistic work explores the intersection of Indigenous and new performance from an interdisciplinary, Konnonkwehón:we (Womxn’s) approach.

Santee is also a pottery designer at her family studio, Talking Earth Pottery. Her pieces have been featured in numerous private and public collection around the globe and in museums such as the Woodland Cultural Centre and the Canadian Museum of History. Santee is a sought-after teacher and speaker on the performing arts and Indigenous performance and culture. Her life and works have been the topic of TV series and films and most recently on CBC Arts – The Move II. Smith is the 19th Chancellor of McMaster University.


Talking Earth received grant funding as part of ArtworxTO: Toronto’s Year of Public Art 2021–2022, a year-long celebration of Toronto’s exceptional public art collection and the creative community behind it. Working closely with artists and Toronto’s arts institutions, ArtworxTO will deliver major public art projects and commissions, citywide, from fall 2021 to fall 2022. Supporting local artists and new artworks that reflect Toronto’s diversity, ArtworxTO is creating more opportunities for citizens to engage with art in their everyday lives. This September, the City of Toronto invites the public to discover creativity and community–everywhere. Visit www.artworxTO.ca for full details.


Andre Morriseau, Communications Manager, Ontario Native Women’s Association
Kerry Swanson, Managing Director, Indigenous Screen Office
Catherine Tammaro, Chair of the Indigenous Arts Committee; Board of Directors, Toronto Arts Council Mary Anne Barkhouse, Artist
Jason Ryle, Independent Arts Consultant
Kent Monkman, Artist
Duke Redbird, Elder, Saugeen First Nation


The Gardiner Museum brings together people of all ages and communities through the shared values of creativity, wonder, and community that clay and ceramic traditions inspire.

We engage audiences with exhibitions, programs, and hands-on classes, while stewarding a significant permanent collection. We interpret historical ceramics to emphasize their relevance today, and champion emerging and established Canadian artists and their role in the broader world. The Gardiner Museum innovates through clay education, as we bring together the experience of making with a deeper understanding of the art of ceramics.

We believe in making, looking, and thinking through clay.

The Gardiner Museum has a collection of over 4,000 objects from the Ancient Americas, Europe, Japan and China, as well as contemporary works with an emphasis on leading Canadian artists. It is among the few museums in the world focused on ceramics and is one of the world’s most notable specialty museums.

For more information, please visit: gardinermuseum.com.


Media Contact:
Rachel Weiner
Senior Manager, Marketing
Gardiner Museum

Talking Earth – Ceramic Commission

Public Art Commission: Gardiner Museum
Concept/Design/Ceramic Sculptural: Santee Smith
Ceramic Sculptural Builder: Jordi Alfaro
Ceramic Technical: Carmela Laganse
Clay Slip: Steven T. Smith
Technical Build/Framing: Mike Kukucska at Hamilton Scenic Specialty Inc.
Engineer: Azra Ross at Epiphany Engineering
Digital Media/3D Animation: Emma Lopez, Pedro Narvaez at AVA Animation & Visual Arts Inc.
A/V studio: Thru The Red Door
Creation/Production Partner: McMaster Studio Arts, Operations and Productions, Faculty of Humanities – McMaster University
Operations and Production Manager: Patrick Brennan
Technical support/Documentation: James Kendal
Studio support: Troy Coulterman, Briana Palmer, Ana Maria Skrtic, Judy Major-Girardin, Eric Euler, Alex Roberts, Benjamin Cummings
Additional facility and studio support/firing: Sumanth Shankar

Talking Earth Performance:

Producer: Kaha:wi Dance Theatre
Creator/Design/Performer: Santee Smith
Dramaturgy: Monique Mojica
Singer/Songwriter/Durational Potter: Semiah Smith
Composer: Adrian Dion Harjo
Singer/Songwriter: Jennifer Kreisberg
Production Manager: James Kendal
Event Technical Production: Solotech Inc.

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