UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Progress in an age of rigor mortis Howard, David Brian


The Painting in Canada exhibition, held in the entrance foyer of the Candian pavilion at the Montreal World's Fair, Expo 67, was an example of the new cultural identity of a mature nation state that had emerged from its history of imperial subserviance vigorous, independent, and free. The presence of the painting "For Ben Bella" by the Canadian artist Greg Curnoe represented an example of the latest efforts of Canadian artists to develop an artistic voice corresponding to the nationalist euphoria characteristic of English-Canada in the mid 1960's. The exhibition displayed, through a brief overview of the last century of Canadian painting, the traditional struggle of Canadian painters to negotiate the treacherous shoals between the Scylla and Charybdis of internationalism and nationalism. The new interest in presenting a redefined national culture was the outcome of several years of intense planning on the part of the Canadian Liberal Party, under the leadership of Prime Minister Lester Pearson. This period witnessed the introduction of a variety of new national symbols, such as a new flag and a new national anthem, in an effort to prevent the fragmentation of Canada and restore the political fortunes of the Liberal Party which by 1965 had reached their lowest ebb since the Conservative landslide of 1957. Between 1965 and 1967, Canadian culture underwent a massive reorganization in order to more readily facilitate the integration of culture into the political objectives of the Liberals. This meant promoting cultural forms suitable to address a wide variety of regional elites. By encouraging regional cultures with their financial aid and promoting intercommunication between these diverse regions the Canadian government could encourage the growth of elites with allegiances both to their region and the federal state. The United States had pursued the instrumentalizing of culture in its foreign policy following the development of the Cold War and this instrumentalizing was further encouraged by several propaganda defeats by the Soviet Union between 1956 and 1958. To reconceptualize the American propaganda effort to oppose the Soviet Union and the growing problem of wars of liberation in the Third World more effectively. The United States developed strategies of promoting regional elites that could have a degree of independence but whose fundamental loyalties were nonetheless to the United States and the capitalist order. Canada, by pursuing its goal of a pluralist federalism, thus became a willing model of the interdependent yet independent nation state within the American empire. Ironically, the presence of Greg Curnoe's "For Ben Bella" at the Canadian pavilion seemed to contradict both the strategies of the Canadian and American planners by its attack, on Mackenzie King, a former Liberal Prime Minister of Canada, and its support of Third World revolutionaries, such as the Algerian socialist Ben Bella. This thesis will analyze the relationship between "For Ben Bella" and its articulation of a new Canadian cultural identity and the policy objectives of both the Canadian Liberal Party and American foreign policy. The ideology of Expo 67 can be traced to the growing parallels between the Canadian and American governments domestic and foreign policy and their efforts to contradict this political and historical reality in order to maintain the illusion of Canadian sovereignty. Situated at the forefront of the developments to utilize new developments in technology and communications theory, Canada developed a model of the new cybernetic ideology, known as "technological liberalism," that was the culmination of efforts to modernize the Cold War effort of the Free World. Rather than contradicting this historical constellation, Greg Curnoe and "For Ben Bella" represent the dilemma of Canadian culture at that particular moment, trapped within the American empire at the transition point between ‘modern’ and the ‘post modern’ culture.

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