"Wild and Luxuriantly": Exhibiting Canada at International World’s Fairs, 1880s-1930s

Spooner, R. (2017) "Wild and Luxuriantly": Exhibiting Canada at International World’s Fairs, 1880s-1930s. Universities Art Association of Canada Annual Conference, Banff, Canada, 12-15 Oct 2017.

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Coming to prominence in the mid-nineteenth century, International World’s Fairs were the “extraordinary cultural spawn of industry and empire” (Greenhalgh 1988: 2). These phenomenally popular events served as platforms for the display of objects, the movement of people, and the dissemination of ideas across the British Empire and beyond. As a result, apparitions of empire and imperial ideologies were deeply embedded in this distinct exhibition paradigm. Beginning with the Great Exhibition held in London in 1851, Canadian government agencies regularly contributed to exhibitions held in Britain. Focusing on key fairs held between the 1880s and 1930s, the paper proposed here seeks to uncover what ambitions underpinned the carefully constructed exhibits mounted by successive governments. What visions of Canada was it hoped that displays of preserved fruits and processed foodstuffs, extracted minerals and harvested grains, Massey-Harris wheat binders and images of the Canadian Pacific Railway would convey to predominantly British audiences? Furthermore, how did the messages communicated by these materials compare to those suggested by fine art, architecture and craft, which routinely played second fiddle to natural resources and industrial machinery? Posing such questions engenders an analysis of the emotive aspirations symbolised by these diverse exhibits. This facilitates an examination of how Canadian authorities used International World’s Fairs, specifically those mounted in British cities like London and Glasgow, to promote a burgeoning sense of national identity. Consequently, the proposed paper engages with discussions concerning the politics of aesthetics, particularly how visual and material culture is used to construct imaginings and projections of nationhood. This prompts a consideration of what experiences and subjectivities are included within such national iconographies, and conversely which are those that are left out, timely subjects in light of Canada 150 and the celebrations, as well as criticisms, it has elicited.

Item Type:Conference or Workshop Item
Keywords:International World's Fairs, Canada, British Empire, politics of display, colonialism.
Glasgow Author(s) Enlighten ID:Spooner, Dr Rosie
Authors: Spooner, R.
Subjects:A General Works > AM Museums (General). Collectors and collecting (General)
F History United States, Canada, Latin America > F1001 Canada (General)
N Fine Arts > N Visual arts (General) For photography, see TR
College/School:College of Arts > School of Humanities > Information Studies
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