Our next Artist You Need To Know is someone who just recently had a major retrospective of her work (long overdue, perhaps) generated by the Art Gallery of Windsor and which travelled to numerous places around Canada, as her work was always a critical and interesting view of the spaces where she lived. Brenda Francis Pelkey has been described as “artist-cartographer-photographer” who practices an “innovative kind of social geography, one in which the subject’s view is challenged to consider diverse options. The works invite viewers to imagine outcomes of events past, present, and future which may have happened, be happening, and could happen in those spaces.” (from the MacKenzie Art Gallery).
Her work straddles a documentary photography of people and places that is still infused with the social and personal, and that has a sense of places and people that some curators credit to her bringing a female gaze into often traditionally male sites and social discourses. In this respect, her work is not so much timeless as a social snapshot, a historical moment where her “works invite viewers to imagine outcomes of events past, present, and future which may have happened, be happening, and could happen in those spaces.” (also the MacKenzie,) Pelkey taught at the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon for decades, helping to shape both the School of Art there as well as influence many significant artists in various media. She was also very involved in The Photographers Gallery (now PAVED Arts) as well as BlackFlash Magazine, in that community.
As well as teaching at the University of Saskatchewan, Pelkey was also the Director of the School of Visual Arts at the University of Windsor (2003-2012), and this is reflected in her later works, as her locale – whether the people or the geography – is always a factor in her art. Several of her notable bodies of work include The Foundry Project, the great effect of the imagination on the world (1988-89), dreams of life and death (1994), Oblivion (1999), Haunts (2001), Spaces of Transformation (2004) and Threshold (2005).
Her retrospective toured across Canada (several of the images included here are from the iteration of that show at the Kenderdine/College Art Galleries) including the Art Gallery of Peterborough.
Institutions that have her work in their collections include the Remai Modern, Winnipeg Art Gallery, Dunlop Art Gallery, Confederation Centre of the Arts, and National Gallery of Canada.
There is an excellent PDF that accompanies Brenda Francis Pelkey: A Retrospective available here.