Thesis Defense – Josée Desforges

THESIS DEFENSE – Josée Desforges (Université du Québec à Montréal) will present her doctoral dissertation entitled “Remaniement de l’art officiel canadien sous la gouvernance de Stephen Harper : le recours à la substitution d’œuvres d’art pour une re-hiérarchisation des symboles nationaux ” on Tuesday, December 14 at 1:30 pm on ZOOM.

(To attend, contact Julie Brosseau

The jury will be composed of Dominic Hardy (Director of Research and Professor in the Department of Art History at the Université du Québec à Montréal), Jean-Philippe Uzel (Professor in the Department of Art History at UQAM), Anne Whitelaw (Professor in the Department of Art History at Concordia University) and Peter Hodgins (Associate Professor in the School of Native and Canadian Studies at Carleton University)


This dissertation examines the substitution of works of art by Canadian state authorities. It focuses specifically on three substitutions that occurred in 2011 and 2012, when the Conservative Party led by Stephen Harper had just been elected as the majority government. In June 2011, a diptych by Alfred Pellan was replaced by a photograph of Queen Elizabeth II in the lobby of the Department of Foreign Affair and International Trade; in June 2012, a painted portrait of the sovereign displaced a work by Norval Morrisseau in the ballroom of Governor General David L. Johnston’s residence, Rideau Hall; and in November 2012, four depictions of Bill Reid’s works were replaced with a view of the Vimy Monument on the new $20 bill issued by the Bank of Canada.

These three substitutions are analyzed in light of the ruptures, continuities, and symbolic re-hierarchizations they bring to official Canadian art. This dissertation provides the first analysis of a body of work that was handled directly by the Prime Minister’s Office, the Governor General, and the Bank of Canada in an effort to legitimize their authority by anchoring themselves in history and to impose new national discourses that contrasted with those of previous governments. The process of substitution thus points to a double relationship to history – continuity and rupture – that, in these three case studies, promotes the concept of national rebuilding over that of nation building.

Keywords: official art, Canada, Stephen Harper, substitution, currency