Clementine Suite, 2004-2005

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Barbara Astman

Artist Statement

The Clementine Suite, 2004-05

The Clementine Suite of installations is inspired by a photograph that appeared in the National Post in April 2001, depicting a group of approximately twenty young men and women who are posing for the camera, appearing in good spirits and health.  The byline below the image described the photograph as a group of Jewish orphans who have recently arrived from Europe to Canada in September 1947. I saved the image and kept referring back to it, questioning the contradiction between the smiling faces and the text.   I wondered what the true story was behind each smiling face.  It was the contradiction of the inherent joyfulness displayed in the image in relationship to the truth of government quotas and war horrors that has directed this series.  It was the faces of these young people that also instigated this work. 

I explored the use of standard, commercial ready-made lighting systems such as flashlights, disco lights and festive lights as modes of projection for the photographic images of the faces.  These ready-made lighting devices project images of the faces onto their darkened surroundings.  The projections have an ephemeral, magical, almost joyousness to them; yet, a serious intention and reading of them.  The projected faces become ghostly images referring back to a history once lived.  The face on the three hundred small cloth bags draws attention to the place of the individual amidst the multitudes.

I have come to regard this series of installations as a celebration of orphans, of survival and human spirit.  Uniting all of the components in this suite is the use of ready-made novelty objects as means of presenting the portraits. This deliberate reference to Dada concepts emphasizes the celebration of survival, the innocence of youth and the legacy of our collective history in a contemporary context.


BARBARA ASTMAN belongs to a visionary group of artists who have continued to radicalize visual culture since the early 1970s by defining new ways of seeing. Over four decades, she has explored a wide range of photo-based media and produced work that has received national and international recognition. She is represented in important public, corporate and private collections including the National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa; the Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris; Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto; Deutche Bank, New York; and the Victoria and Albert Museum, London. Her artist’s archives are held in the E.P. Taylor Research Library & Archives, AGO.


Astman has an extensive and prestigious solo exhibition history, most recently the two-part Looking: Then and Now (Corkin Gallery, 2016) and BarbaraAstman: I as artifact. The latter featured a new series accompanied by a comprehensive publication (McIntosh Gallery, 2014). In May 2011, her installation, Dancing with Che: Enter through the Gift Shop (Kelowna Art Gallery, 2013) toured across Canada. And her touring retrospective, Barbara Astman: Personal/Persona – A 20 Year Survey, was curated by Liz Wylie (Art Gallery of Hamilton, 1995). Astman has been included in major group exhibitions, such as: Toronto: Tributes + Tributaries, 1971-1989 (AGO, 2016), Living Building Thinking: Art and Expressionism (McMaster Museum of Art, 2016), Look Again: Colour Xerography Art Meets Technology (AGO, 2015), Herland (60 Wall Gallery, New York, 2014), Light My Fire Part I: Some Propositions about Portraits and Photography (AGO, 2013), and Beautiful Fictions (AGO, 2009). Canadian Art featured a profile of her career in its Spring 2014 issue. 

Astman was commissioned to create an installation for the inaugural exhibition at the Koffler Gallery (Toronto, 2013). She has completed several public art commissions, including the Murano on Bay in Toronto, comprised of 217 windows with photo-based imagery (2010); a public art installation for the Canadian Embassy in Berlin, Germany (2005); and a floor installation for the Calgary Winter Olympics (1987).


Active in the Toronto arts community, Astman has served on numerous boards and advisory committees, including the AGO Board of Trustees (2009-2013). Currently, she is the Chair of the Art Advisory Committee, Koffler Gallery, Toronto and President, Board of Directors, Prefix (ICA) Institute of Contemporary Art, Toronto. In addition, she has co-curated an installation titled The Emergence of Feminism: Changing the Course of Art, featuring work by Joyce Wieland, Suzy Lake and Lisa Steele (AGO, 2008).


Astman holds degrees from the Rochester Institute of Technology, School for American Craftsmen, and Ontario College of Art. She has been a professor at OCAD University, Toronto since 2001.


Text by Georgiana Uhlyarik, Fredrik S. Eaton Curator of Canadian Art, AGO. For more information, please visit