Bryce Kanbara
Radical community building
Alternate View
Bryce Kanbara’s career stretches over nearly fifty years. He graduated from McMaster University in 1971 and was a founding member, administrator and director of the Hamilton Artists Inc. He has worked as an officer, curator and director across Ontario cultural institutions throughout his career.

Japanese Canadian Advocacy

Although he valued his personal creative time in the studio, Kanbara committed a significant portion of his time not only to building the arts community in Hamilton, but also to advocating for Japanese Canadians. Throughout the 1980s, Kanbara was involved with the redress strategy committee and activism that culminated in 1988 with the redress agreement signed on behalf of the government of Canada.

In 1995, Kanbara completed the Shadow Project in Nathan Philips Square. He explains, “It was a project to commemorate the dropping of the bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The outlining of figures lying on the ground, people lying on the ground was made to symbolize how they were vaporized when the bombs fell. I recall going out in the streets on August the 6th in high school and doing that several times and also at university.”

Curatoral Projects

In addition to his own art making, Kanbara worked as a curator throughout his career. In 1999, he curated ‘Messages’ at the Art Gallery of Hamilton alongside ‘Bill Viola: The Messenger’.

“There was a room right in the middle of the big gallery at the Art Gallery of Hamilton where people could enter and sit and watch Bill Viola’s fourteen-minute video of a naked man surfacing from the depth and taking a deep breath and going back under again… I asked Leon Robinson who was a graffiti artist to do a wall which was controversial as well because he had to curtain off the whole area because of the spray paint and get his work done over the course of three days or so. Ivan Jurakic did an installation piece of a branch suspended from the ceiling with one tip pointing to a fluorescent light halo and then the third group was Ellis Bateson’s collective from Gallery 435 on Barton Street and he amassed this group of people to come in and they did this trailing installation of debris which was also kind of controversial.”

Bryce Kanbara. "Untitled". 1980. Wood collage. Courtesy of the artist.

“The retrospective [at the Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre] was really enlightening for me because I’ve never seen an overview of my work in one room before. I know when I did them, but I never really examined them as transitioning from one theme to another or one media to another. But they brought me back to I don’t know, just a recognition of how the intensity of the experience in creating them, especially the earlier ones, they are so psychologically and emotionally engaged that they’re…I don’t know. I’m looking at them now and think, Wow that’s pretty intense. But that’s the kind of guy I was… We were just trying to work through stuff. When I look back at it, that’s what it is. It’s just working through ideas and working through technical problems and trying to get somewhere. It’s sort of cliché but I just don’t think of getting anywhere. I’m not a visionary so I’m not thinking that far ahead.”

– Bryce Kanbara, 2018