Citizen Subjects: Photography, Race and Belonging in Canada

The front page of The Clarion newspaper from 1947, featuring a photograph of the Prevoe family.
Monday, November 27, 2017 - 12:00pm to 1:00pm

In this talk, Gabrielle Moser discusses her current research project that analyzes how racialized subjects pictured themselves as citizens around 1947, the date that Canada’s first citizenship laws were enacted. Through extensive research in local and state archives, this project aims to analyze how viewers recognize citizens through modes of photographic self-presentation.


Gabrielle Moser is a writer, educator and independent curator. Her writing appears in venues including, Canadian Art, Journal of Visual Culture, Photography & Culture, and Prefix Photo. Moser has held fellowships at the Paul Mellon Centre for the Study of British Art, the Ryerson Image Centre, the University of British Columbia and was a Fulbright Visiting Scholar at Brown University in 2017. She holds a PhD from the art history and visual culture program at York University in Toronto, Canada and is an Assistant Professor in art history at OCAD University.

Research Rendezvous is a series for faculty and students to share and learn about research at OCAD U. Light refreshments will be available.
Presented by the Office of Research and Innovation


Venue & Address: 
Room 701K, 205 Richmond St. West
The event poster

Citizen Subjects: Photography, Race and Belonging in Canada

When Canada’s first citizenship laws came into effect in 1947, photography had already been representing this mode of belonging in the country for more than 50 years. Citizen Subjects explores this unique context that allowed Canadian citizenship to emerge as a subject of photography long before it became a legal category. Building on research conducted in local, municipal, and national archives from coast to coast, this multi-year research project explores the intersections of photography, race, and citizenship, testing the promises—and limitations—of visual representation in securing identities and rights.


  • To source representations of racialized subjects in local, municipal and state archives in the lead up to 1947 and to analyze the visual vocabulary that subjects used to present themselves to the camera as citizens;
  • To evaluate how photographic claims to citizenship in Canada participated in global and transnational understandings of citizenship around 1948, a period of intense activity around de-colonial, civil rights and nationalist independence movements;
  • To engage recent debates about citizenship, race, and photography by problematizing these terms’ historical conjunction with colonialism;
  • To disseminate findings through a one day public symposium at OCAD in Fall 2018, an exhibition at Gallery 44 and Critical Distance in Toronto in Spring 2019, journal publications, conference presentations, pedagogical activities, and an online archive;
  • To visualize the effects of changes to citizenship and immigration law, with the potential to inform Canadian policy formation. 

Comprising exhibitions, scholarly articles, a series of newly commissioned public installations, and an interactive website that allows users to build a visual vocabulary of citizenship, this interdisciplinary project invites audiences to think critically about questions of belonging in and around Canada’s sesquicentennial year. How did subjects use the camera to make claims for equality as citizens before the law offered them any such protections? What are the gestures, expressions, poses, and modes of dress that we recognize as performances of citizenship? How were race and citizenship imagined, and pictured, alongside one another?

Citizen Subjects is framed around an important date in thinking about the history of visuality and citizenship it Canada, focusing on the period leading up to the enactment of Canada’s first citizenship laws in 1947. These were, somewhat unbelievably, the first citizenship laws in the British Empire. The period between the end of the Second World War and the start of the Cold War is important for thinking about Canada’s relationship to global and transnational politics, because it marks a host of other nationalist and de-colonial movements happening worldwide, including the passing of the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Man, the partition of India and Pakistan, the start of apartheid in South Africa, and the destruction of Palestine and the creation of the state of Israel. Examining race and citizenship between 1946 and 1948 therefore illuminates how Canadian visual culture participates in global and transnational movements, and also forces the spectres of the transatlantic slave trade and settler colonialism—two global processes foundational to twentieth century politics—to come back into the frame of how we picture belonging in Canada.

In a contemporary moment marked by increasing restrictions on citizen rights, such as the recent cap on Syrian refugees permitted into Canada, public debates about the global refugee crisis, and political movements such as Idle No More and Black Lives Matter, the project of building a visual vocabulary of citizenship takes on political urgency for a wide range of audiences in Canada. By examining how citizenship appears in photographs, Citizen Subjects develops critical knowledge about why certain subjects continue to be left out of legal framings of citizenship and builds the public’s visual literacy for recognizing current claims to citizenship by immigrant communities, people of colour, and Indigenous subjects.

Timeline of World Events (1947-48)
Blog post about in-progress research
Classroom on “Spectatorship, race and citizenship” (Video program curated by Gabrielle Moser)
Instudio Article "Picturing Race and Citizenship — with Dr. Gabrielle Moser" by Heather Beaumont"

This research was supported by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.

Image of gloved hands handling photograph.
Monday, September 25, 2017 - 12:00pm
Lab Member: 
Gabrielle Moser
Embed Video: 

Art Institutions and the Feminist Dialectic

Wednesday, December 3, 2008 - 5:00am to Thursday, December 4, 2008 - 5:00am

The Ontario Association of Art Galleries presents Art Institutions and the Feminist Dialectic, a two-day symposium for visual art professionals addressing issues, contradictions and paradoxes arising from the exhibition, acquisition, and preservation of feminist artwork by Ontario public art galleries, archives, universities and other public institutions.
Art forms that gained popularity during the 1960s, taking up civil rights, the feminist movement and the possibilities of art as activism, have been entering public art galleries and museums. A new discussion of how feminist work performs in the museum space is timely. Symposium registrants will actively contribute in a working group environment.

The Ontario Association of Art Galleries is a independent charity serving and representing Ontario's public art galleries as valued and essential centres of art and learning. Our unique professional programming networks visual arts professionals together across sectors, disciplines, and cohorts. Seed funding requires matching registration fees from professional organizations: a minimum registration of 25 professional colleagues.


Emelie Chhangur is a Toronto-based artist, cultural worker, and curator. Maintaining a process-based, collaborative approach to working with artists, her recent curatorial research and practice finds its relevant context in Latin-America. As an artist, her position as Assistant Director / Curator at the Art Gallery of York University (AGYU) is instrumental in transforming the nature of the contemporary art institution and the role of the university art gallery in relation to its academic context and its social function within an arts community.

Dr. Christine Conley is an art historian and independent curator concerned with issues of gender, difference, trauma, and the art gallery as site of ethical encounters. Her MA thesis (Carleton) examined the status of women artists in Toronto during the 1960s, focusing on Christiane Pflug and Joyce Wieland, and her PhD (Essex) considered the reinvention of allegory by 20th century women artists Charlotte Salomon, Eva Hesse, and Mary Kelly as a means of symbolising loss and imaging feminine subjectivities.

Pamela Edmonds is a visual and media arts curator working at the Art Gallery of Peterborough. She received her BFA and an MA in Art History from Concordia University. The former co-editor of the Black cultural journal Kola (based in Montreal), she is interested in developing and curating projects that focus on the creative production of African-Canadian artists and in work that deals with issues surrounding the ideologies of race, gender, cultural identity and representation.

Carla Garnet works in Toronto as an independent curator, actively supporting contemporary culture through a variety of initiatives that aim to interrogate the politics of aesthetics. Most recently Garnet curated Sharon Switzer: Falling from Grace for the McMaster Museum of Art in 2006-07, and Allyson Mitchell's Ladies Sasquatch Gathering, launching at McMaster in 2009 and traveling to the Art Gallery of Winnipeg, the University of Lethbridge Art Gallery and the Art Gallery of Peterborough.

Sophie Hackett is the Assistant Curator, Photography at the Art Gallery of Ontario. She holds a Master of Arts from the University of Chicago, with a focus on the History of Photography, and spent a year in the Department of Photographs at the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles in 2005-2006. She teaches in Ryerson University's Masters program in Photographic Preservation and Collections Management. For CONTACT 2008, she worked with Toronto artist Suzy Lake, Rhythm of a True Space, to create a site-specific installation on the construction hoarding of the Art Gallery of Ontario.

Johanna Householder has been making performances and other artwork in Canada since the late 1970s. She was a member of the satirical feminist performance ensemble, The Clichettes, through the 1980s. She is one of the founders of the 7a*11d International Festival of Performance Art. Her short video works, produced in collaboration with B.H. Yael, have screened internationally. She is a Professor in the Integrated Media Program at the Ontario College of Art and Design. With Tanya Mars, she edited Caught in the Act: an anthology of performance by Canadian women, published by YYZ Books in 2004.

Dr. Kristina Huneault is Associate Professor in the Art History department at Concordia University, where she occupies a University Research Chair. Together with Janice Anderson and Melinda Reinhart, she is one of the founders of the Canadian Women Artists History Initiative, a project that aims to bring researchers and resources together to foster the study of art made by women in Canada prior to 1967.

Suzy Lake was one of a group of artists in the early 70s to adopt performance, video and photography in order to explore the politics of gender, the body and identity. Early examples of her work are included in the touring exhibition: WACK! Art and the Feminist Revolution 1965 - 1980, curated by Connie Butler for the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art. Lake has a long exhibition career in Canada, and has also shown her work in Europe, the United States, South America and Asia. She is represented by Paul Petro Contemporary Art (Toronto) and SolwayJones (Los Angeles).

Allyson Mitchell is a maximalist artist working predominantly in sculpture, installation and film. Her work has exhibited in galleries and festivals across Canada, the US, Europe and East Asia. She teaches at York University in the School of Women's Studies. Currently, Mitchell is curating a survey exhibition of Judy Chicago's textile-based work, from 1968 to 2008, for the Textile Museum of Canada (opening February, 2009).

Camilla Singh, a practicing visual artist, working in Toronto, has exhibited in Austria, Canada, Holland, Iceland, and Serbia. She is the Curator at the Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art (MOCCA). In Toronto's 2007, she curated Supernatural City, ten major outdoor contemporary art installations viewed by 800,000 people over the course of 12 hours from dusk to dawn.

Venue & Address: 
Symposium Location 918 Bathurst Street, Toronto, Ontario
Registration: $195 OAAG Members / $250 General; please register by November 26