Explore a mixture of domestic and international artists in a series of free exhibitions across the city.
Toronto is famous for its robust international art scene, so it should be no surprise the city hosts its own Biennial. That’s a major exhibition that takes place every two years, typically featuring artists from around the world.
The theme for the 2022 Toronto Biennial of Art (TBA) is What Water Knows, The Land Remembers, featuring interdisciplinary works that explore the relationship between people and places around the world. The Biennial blends not only works of painting and sculpture but also site-specific installations, workshops, film screenings and artist talks that make this a truly memorable experience.
5 can’t-miss Toronto Biennial exhibitions
In 2022, the Toronto Biennial will run from March 26 to June 5, providing 72 days of unique programming featuring work by nearly 40 artists. Unsure where to start? These are five exciting installations on the TBA 2022 program, which also highlight the Biennial’s celebration of Indigenous artists and themes.
I AM YOUR RELATIVE by Jeffery Gibson at MOCA Toronto
Indigenous artist Jeffery Gibson is descended from the Choctaw and Cherokee tribes and incorporates his heritage in works like I AM YOUR RELATIVE. This evolving, site-specific art installation features fifteen movable stages around the first floor of the Museum of Contemporary Art that together are designed to create “a safe space to share experiences.”
Each stage features various textures and visuals made up of posters, stickers, textiles, decor, books, and more derived from historical archives and contemporary queer and BIPOC culture.
The stages blend the intimate feel of a private bedroom with the monumental scale of Indigenous earthworks while also serving as the setting for some artist talks and other programming throughout the Toronto Biennial.
Kaokao #1 by the Mata Aho Collective at Arsenal Contemporary Toronto
A bold fabric sculpture known as Kaokao #1 will dominate the gallery space at Arsenal Contemporary, made up of hundreds of metres of reflective tape transformed into a traditional Maori pattern called tukutuku.
The vision of four artists known as Mata Aho, Kaokao #1 explores notions of extended family, women’s work, and collective labour.
Mata Aho is made up of Erena Baker, Sarah Hudson, Bridget Reweti and Terri Te Tau, who collaborated on this piece to “represent the unlimited strength and warrior-like endurance of women to create and bring new life.”
45th Parallell by Lawrence Abu Hamdan at Mercer Union
Artist Lawrence Abu Hamdan creates unique works of audio art with a political bend, and 45th Parallell is no exception.
Slated for display at Mercer Union, this installation examines conflict on the United States and Mexico border. It contrasts charged geopolitics with the Haskell Free Library and Opera House’s status as a joint operation between the US and Canada.
Hamdan’s piece features a monologue performed by filmmaker Mahdi Fleifel rooted in the Hernández vs. Mesa legal case that reached the US Supreme Court in 2019. Named for the latitudinal line that sits halfway between the North Pole and the Equator, 45th Parallell is performed against a changing backdrop that evokes a variety of borderlands from Damascus to El Paso.
a home for Her by Eric-Paul Riege at the Small Arms Inspection Building
Diné artist Eric-Paul Riege explores the intersection of his cultural and artistic inheritances with a home for Her. The installation consists of woven panels crafted by the artist and the women in his family over a year and the looms used to create these textiles.
Together, the panels recreate the artist’s childhood home, which Riege moves through and inhabits in traditional Indigenous regalia, weaving in and out of his own family and tribal history in a material expression of Hózhó-Diné beliefs.
Never Ending Monument by Andrea Carlson at 72 Perth
One of two Toronto Biennial installations at this venue, Never Ending Monument is artist Andrea Carlson’s sculptural tribute to Indigenous earth mounds in what is now the upper midwestern United States.
A member of the Ojibwe tribe who lives on Potawatomi land near Chicago, Carlson frequently explores the significance of place in large-format sculptures and outdoor installations.
With Never Ending Monument, she has created 28 wooden effigy staves typical of numerous Indigenous cultures and displays them in a grouping and scale that evokes both natural landscapes and tribal burial mounds.
The wooden sculpture is shown with Carlson’s 2021 mixed media drawing Cast a Shadow, which is made up of multiple panels that also explore the idea of monuments and their place in the natural world from Indigenous and colonial perspectives.
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Here’s where to go to explore traditional and contemporary visual and performance art by First Nations, Métis and Inuit artists. Indigenous art occupies a vital position within Canadian art.
Live events at the Toronto Biennial of Art
In addition to the works of art on display for the duration of the Biennial, TBA also features live events well worth putting on your calendar.
Some notable events include the Closing BBQ & Book Launch, MBL Freedom Performance, Vibe Arts Family Workshops at 72 Perth & SAIB, In Conversation: Dr. George Mahashe And Buhlebezwe Siwani (virtual event), and the following:
Nam June’s Spirit Was Speaking to Me by Aki Onda
From March 26 to June 5, artist Aki Onda is performing the live art piece Nam June’s Spirit Was Speaking to Me, a blend of audio work and seance broadcast on 88.5FM and 106.5FM to radios throughout the 72 Perth exhibition space.
Visitors are encouraged to bring their own radios to pick up the invisible art installation that’s an ode to the late, great Korean artist Nam June Paik’s own brand of international shamanism.
Toronto Landscape Observations
Between May 1 and June 5, the Toronto Landscape Observatory is hosting work curated by Jane Wolff and Susan Schwartzenberg as well as a weekly series delving into the relationships between people and place embodied by 72 Perth.
Those programs include conversations about language and landscape, observational and listening-themed walks, and plant-focused workshops hosted by artists including Alexander Moyle, James Bird, Dr. Jennifer Wmigwans, Sherry Lee and Emily MacCallum and Lorraine Johnson.
Storytelling at the Toronto Biennial of Art
From May 13-15, 21-22, and 27-29, Storytelling events will occur at the Small Arms Inspection Building, Arsenal Contemporary, 72 Perth and 5 Lower Jarvis. These sessions are hosted by Jeffrey Canton, Melissa Davidson, Emily DiCarlo, lwrds duniam, and Nicole Markland.
Storytelling events are a chance to converse with artists and experience various works from the Biennial with knowledgeable guides. They are presented with the support of an official Toronto Sign Language Interpreter for those Deaf and hard-of-hearing visitors who are versed in ASL.
Dish Dances Movement Workshop by Ange Loft (Kanien’kehá:ka) and Jumblies Theatre + Arts
This workshop invites the audience to learn from the Talking Treaties Collective of Indigenous artists and researchers as the group develops a movement practice rooted in a blend of history, culture and connections to the land.
Taking place at Historic Fort York’s Garrison Commons on May 21 and May 28 from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m., this is an opportunity to learn more about Indigenous Dish Dances and the Toronto landscape itself.
A Tribute to Toronto by Judy Chicago
On June 4, artist Judy Chicago will be performing the site-specific work A Tribute to Toronto from a barge off Sugar Beach. Her Tribute will include a unique Smoke Sculpture™ that will transform the Lake Ontario shoreline with various colours and textures that transform one’s notion of place.
The performance starts at dusk (approximately around 8 p.m.) but the public is invited to enjoy a DJ and food and drink vendors starting at 7 p.m. The rain date is June 5.
How to access the Toronto Biennial of Art
From traditional exhibition sites like the Museum of Contemporary Art to more unusual destinations like the Small Arms Inspection Building, the Toronto Biennial offers locals and visitors alike a chance to see bold new artworks and explore the city in a whole new way.
The Free TBA Pass
While there is no cost to attend the Toronto Biennial, participants should download a free pass to access the over 65 events across more than ten venues. It also comes with numerous other perks like discounts on ETHICA Roasters coffee, Forno Cultura MOCA wines, Henderson Brewing Beers, the Hockey Hall of Fame, and more.
If the TBA leaves you craving more arts exposure, pass holders also get a discount at the Van Gogh, Frida Kahlo, and Gustav Klimt Immersive exhibitions.
Getting to the Toronto Biennial of Art
The majority of TBA events occur near one another in downtown Toronto. The Toronto Biennial is easily accessible by foot, bicycle or public transportation. The most remote event space is at the Small Arms Inspection Building near Marie Curtis Park to the west or 5 Lower Jarvis to the east.
The latter, along with the Fort York National Historic Site and Colborne Lodge, are the three TBA sites closest to Toronto’s shoreline. The other sites, including the Arsenal Contemporary Art Toronto, 72 Perth Avenue, and Mercer Union, are around the Museum of Contemporary Art.
Where to stay for the Toronto Biennial of Art
The historic Drake Hotel is the official lodging partner of the TBA, with a special discount for Biennial attendees. Whether you’re visiting Toronto from out of town or want to make a staycation of it, the Drake is right in the middle of all the TBA events for easy access.