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Absurdly Superficial Solutions Rule Toni Hamel’s Witty Paintings
June 28, 2024

Among the 83 appointments to the Order of Canada announced this week—a list that includes everyone from pop star Avril Lavigne to war correspondent Melissa Fung—Governor General Mary Simon has included three prominent Canadian artists. Artist and Aids activist Joe Average; Métis artist, environmentalist and social justice advocate Christi Marlene Belcourt and the revered poet, painter and musician bill bissett—a pre-eminent figure of the 1960s counterculture movement in Canada—were all appointed as members of the Order of Canada just ahead of the national holiday, Canada Day, on 1 July.

Established as a fellowship recognising the outstanding merit or distinguished service of Canadians who make a major difference to Canada through lifelong contributions in every field of endeavour, membership to the Order of Canada (the second-highest honour in the country’s system of orders, decorations and medals) is accorded to those who exemplify the order’s Latin motto, desiderantes meliorem patriam, or “they desire a better country”, a phrase taken from Hebrews 11:16.

The 66-year-old, Vancouver-based artist Joe Average, who has been HIV-positive since age 27, has been honoured for both his art and his humanitarianism. In 2002, then-mayor of Vancouver Philip Owen issued a civic proclamation to designate 3 November as “Joe Average Day”, acknowledging the artist’s efforts to fight homophobia and assist Aids charities such as A Loving Spoonful. In August 2021, the same week as his new mural commemorating the 40th anniversary of the first reported case of Aids in the US was unveiled in Vancouver, Average was awarded the Order of BC (British Columbia), the province’s highest form of recognition.

Christi Marlene Belcourt, renowned for her large, painted floral

landscapes inspired by Métis beadwork, which are found in many public and permanent collections across North America, has also organised several national, community-based projects of note. These include Walking With Our Sisters, the Willisville Mountain Project and the Onaman Collective. She’s also an active advocate for Indigenous language revitalisation.

The artist and poet bill bisset, whose collections combining audio and visual elements with printed works, is a pioneer in interdisciplinary arts practice. He also co-founded the Secret Handshake Gallery in Toronto’s Kensington Market, Canada’s first and only peer-support facility for people with schizophrenia.

“The Order of Canada recognises individuals who have made positive and lasting impacts on communities here in Canada, or who have brought honour to our country abroad,” the Governor General said in a media statement.

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