Barbara Astman, Dancing with Che, 2003

 

While visiting Cuba, Astman was drawn to the emblematic design of novelty items that had been emblazoned with the face of Ché Guevara, a Cuban revolutionary leader prevalent during the 1950s. Astman found herself interested in the proliferation of his image, observing how his portrait continued to be appropriated – so many decades after his death – by various groups as a symbol of extremism.

 

In Dancing with Che, Astman examines the blurring identity between historical figure and pop culture icon. Addressing the issue by imbuing the now banal image of Che with the physical presence of her body, creating a personal, as well as a present moment, in which act as a fading reminder of a historical and cultural past.

 

When viewed sequentially, Dancing with Che is a fictional performance between Astman and her dance partner, Che Guevara. Astman uses her image to evoke an emotive narrative—rooted within her psyche and based on her own lived experience, completed in the viewer’s imagination—through carefully orchestrated compositions of poses, gestures, and form.

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 www.barbaraastman.com.