Léuli Eshrāghi Named Indigenous Arts Curator at Montreal Museum of Fine Arts - The World News

Léuli Eshrāghi Named Indigenous Arts Curator at Montreal Museum of Fine Arts

Léuli Eshrāghi has been named curator of Indigenous arts at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts (MMFA).

At the museum, Eshrāghi will be responsible for developing exhibitions that highlight local and international Indigenous artists, as well as acquiring new works for the MMFA’s permanent collection.

“It’s kind of everything I’ve always wanted,” they told ARTnews.

“I have wanted to work in a French language environment for a long time,” they said, citing their work as an interpreter, translator, curator, writer, and several advisory roles with exhibitions showing Francophone artists. “For me, it’s the capacity to be very fluid across languages, across cultures that really is a reflection of Montreal, and it’s a very unique position in North America, within society, Quebec society, Canadian society and North American society in general.”

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Eshrāghi is a member of the Sāmoan clans Seumanutafa and Tautua, as well as a person of Persian, Cantonese, and European descent. In addition to Canada’s official languages of French and English, the non-binary curator speaks Sāmoan, Spanish, and the creole languages of Vanuatu and Papua New Guinea.

The artist, researcher, curator and author returned to Montreal for this new full-time position at the museum after working as a curator across Canada and Australia—including curating the eighth edition of the TarraWarra Biennial, which closes on July 16—as well as publishing Indigenous Aesthetics and Knowledges for Great Ocean Renaissances with Common Room Editions this year.

Eshrāghi has a PhD in Curatorial Practice from Monash University and a Graduate Certificate in Indigenous Arts Management from the University of Melbourne, and has worked as a scientific advisor on the exhibition “Reclaim the Earth” at the Palais de Tokyo in Paris in 2022. Their own art has been exhibited at the Tate Modern in London, the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia in Sydney, and the Sharjah Biennial in the United Arab Emirates.

Their new curatorial position, funded through a donation from Scotiabank and the asset management firm Jarislowsky Fraser, will span research into Indigenous arts as well as guidance on how the museum can institutionally support and affirm Indigenous artists and staff.

“Léuli also has the role of leading cultural diplomacy efforts with indigenous nations and communities around the world,” museum director Stéphane Aquin told ARTnews. “So, it’s extremely important for us. Operationally, there’s room in every dimension of what we do.”

While there have been Indigenous curatorial positions at the Vancouver Art Gallery, Remai Modern, the National Gallery of Canada and the Art Gallery of Ontario, the MMFA’s would be the first one in the province of Québec.

There was considerable time and distance before Eshrāghi’s appointment. The job listing of Indigenous arts curator at the MMFA was posted in last May, and Eshrāghi applied in September while working at the Tate in London. Their acceptance was finalized in December, and they officially started five weeks ago.

Eshrāghi is enthusiastic about the opportunity to expand MMFA’s collection with acquisitions of works by local and international Indigenous artists, especially Francophone Indigenous artists, in a way that highlights their connected histories. They cited the example of the interrelated Indigenous peoples of Greenland, Siberia, and Russia. “I really see what I am able to do in the next few years as key to uplifting local perspectives, here and then from there, expanding outward.”

“I don’t think that it’s going to take that much for our collection to better reflect and be the leading one in the country to reflect indigenous practice, which is very rich in Quebec, and also a Francophone practice, which is very important to me in terms of what’s being made in Louisiana, French Guyana, Haiti and other indigenous communities across the Americas,” they added.

“Eshrāghi is also engaged with a global conception and reality of Indigenous art,” museum director Stéphane Aquin told ARTnews. “That’s a key element in how I think they will transform and change the museum.”

Eshrāghi is interested in acquiring more performance, design, and time-based media. Their postdoc research at Concordia focused on how to archive Indigenous practice using time-based media that looks to the future. “That doesn’t take that much space, physically, in our, in our storage facilities,” they said with a laugh. “It’s a medium that travels really well.”

But Aquin was very clear that Eshrāghi’s curatorial role would only be transformative if decolonization was understood as actively including Indigenous voices and a framework adopted by everyone working at the museum. “This is a collective task and the entire curatorial team is invested in that process,” he said. “The whole institution is in tune with this kind of thinking.”

Eshrāghi said pre-Columbian art curator Erell Hubert already exemplified best practices for working with Indigenous artists, citing the MMFA exhibition “Thought and Splendour of Indigenous Colombia“. Co-curated with Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, as well as the Museo del Oro and the Unidad de Artes y Otras Colecciones of the Banco de la República, Colombia, the exhibition actively collaborated with the Arhuaco community of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta region.

“I don’t feel it’s all on me,” Eshrāghi said.

“We are creating a pathway program for emerging indigenous curators, and cultural mediators, which will be rolled out towards the end of this year, to really ensure that, you know, next time we have a role, we don’t have to go to find someone from Australia,” Eshraghi added, noting how their mentor at the National Gallery of Victoria, the Black-Indigenous curator Sana Balai, informally mentored 30 other people. “We’re lucky that we have a funded program that we’ll be able to roll out, which will support the next generations of arts workers coming through.”

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