BENJAMIN CHEE CHEE
LIFE AND LEGACY
" I had a rough time of it, but I've learned that you're given a life, and it's up to you to do the best with it. You've got to learn patience... it's not too nice, they way some people are; it hurts my heart the way people are like that... I've got lots of problems but I can handle them. If I made it this far, I think I'll make it the rest of the way".
Untitled [Friends], 1974, acrylic on paper.
On loan from the collection of Claudette Larocque.
Introduction: Benjamin Chee Chee: Life and Legacy | Bemahdezewin kuhya Muhgehwaywin
Benjamin Chee Chee (March 26, 1944 - March 14, 1977) lived a rich and full, but tragically short, life. During his four years as a full time professional visual artist in Montreal and Ottawa his work was prolific and disparate, ranging from his iconic 'Friends' and 'Benji birds' to his less generally familiar abstracts.
Benjamin Chee Chee: Life and Legacy comprises a comprehensive selection of Chee Chee's works gathered from galleries and individuals across Ontario. The exhibition presents a personal perspective, achieved through multifarious collaborations, including those with close friends of Chee Chee's.
To balance this personal perspective, Carmen L. Robertson, scholar of art history and Indigenous peoples, author of 'Mythologizing Norval Morisseau: Art and the Colonial Narrative in the Canadian Media', and currently an Association Professor at the University of Regina, has provided an essay from an academic perspective: The Making of a Movement: Chee Chee and Trailblazing Artists of the 1960's and 1970's.
Response to the Exhibition
The overwhelming response to this exhibition has confirmed our belief that Chee Chee's life and art has importance and an impact, not just in our community but nationally. We hosted visitors from Quebec, Ontario, Alberta, British Columbia, as well as California, Michigan, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, Montana, New York, Ohio, Texas, Virginia, Alaska, Denmark, England, Germany, Italy, Bahamas, and Switzerland.
During the 6 weeks the Chee Chee exhibition was up in our Gallery, we had over 2000 visitors. Our visitors viewed the exhibition, took part in: mental health and healing workshops with the Canadian Mental Health Association and Temiskaming Native Women's Support Group, painting workshops with Temagami First Nations elder Hugh McKenzie, Early Learning (ages 2.5-4) school programs, elementary and high school group tours from École Secondaire Catholique Sainte-Marie, Timiskaming District Secondary School, Kiwetin School (from Temiskaming First Nations, Qc.), Amo Ososwan School (Long Point First Nation), École Ste-Croix (JK-Gr. 6); and art talks with Chee Chee collector and friend Ernie Bies, Indigenous advocate and MP Charlie Angus, and Deanna Nebenionquit (Indigenous curator and artist). Chee Chee's work inspired both the March Break painting workshop with McKenzie and a group of high school students from TDSS who worked with NEOFACS to create artwork focused on personal mental health.
Designed to celebrate the artwork of Benjamin Chee Chee while using his tragic story as a springboard for greater cultural understanding, healing, and community awareness of the challenges to and support for mental health.
Project Curator: Felicity Buckell
Indigenous Consultation: Hugh Mackenzie
French Translation: Réjeanne et Michel Massie
Ojibwe Translation: Duane Paul
Design: Lucy Wowk and Alice Clarkson
Quotes from Tom Hill and Benjamin Chee Chee are excerpts from the CBC audio production "The Life and Death of Benjamin Chee Chee', 1980.
Quotes from Ernie Bies are Excerpts from his short story "A Shooting Star: The Chee Chee I Knew". December 2017.
All images are reproduced courtesy of Guy Mattar, Administrator of the Estate of Benjamin Chee Chee.
Exhibition pieces are on loan from the collections of Ernie and Sandra Bies, Claudette Larocque, Marvyn Morrison, Suzanne and Normand Routhier, Temagami First Nation Band Council, the Collection of Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada, and the Bert Curtis Collection of the Thunder Bay Art Gallery.