Brenda Francis Pelkey: A Retrospective
Curated by Catharine Mastin, Ph.D.
Organized and circulated by the Art Gallery of Windsor
This retrospective exhibition features the work of Brenda Francis Pelkey, known for her contributions to contemporary photography since the 1980s. A career-first, the retrospective considers Francis Pelkey’s practice over nearly four decades commencing with her early black-and-white industrial subjects and continuing to her present work in Windsor, Ontario. “Very generally,” she explained in 2001, “my photographic practice has centred on subjective experience and the problematics of meaning and place.”
Brenda Francis Pelkey began making art in North Bay, Ontario, followed by time in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, the East Coast, and more recently in Windsor, Ontario, where she has also served as Director of the School of Visual Arts at the University of Windsor (2003–12). Today, she continues an active role as professor and artist. Being the daughter of a father with a military career meant that she and her family moved many times during her youth. Equally, the evolution of her professional life has required successive relocations. The works in this exhibition are informed by these biographical experiences as well as by ideas of social geography and psychology. For Francis Pelkey, social geography and psychology are the experiences of public and private spaces which are not mapped in the traditional sense, but rather have the power to create personal meaning. Her works invite viewers to imagine outcomes of events past, present, and future which may have happened, may be happening, and could happen in those spaces, and from feminist viewpoints.
From the particularized suburban front and backyards adorned with elements of personal memory and identity to eerie dark roads at night, expansive coastal ocean panoramas, empty hospital beds, strip-dance clubs, empty bars, courtrooms, and pool scenes, Francis Pelkey exposes the still-gendered and changing contours of contemporary life. Narrative tension and uncertainty are at the centre of her work, and they are explored through themes of feminism, memory, place and autobiography. The historical perception of the photograph as document, testimony to fact, is challenged to deploy the medium as one of rich social and psychological impact. Here, viewers have occasion to appreciate Brenda Francis Pelkey’s legacy within and beyond the medium of her focus and within and beyond contemporary art.
This exhibition is supported by Canadian Heritage Museums Assistance Program through the auspices of the Access to Heritage Program
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