Allan J. Ryan


A long time ago, in my final year at the Ontario College of Art, I wrote and performed political satire on CTV’s public affairs show, W5. Not long after, I cut a catchy little ragtime number about Pierre Trudeau for Capitol Records, which won a big silver trophy. And not long after that, I recorded an equally catchy tune -- to my mind at least -- about leaving my body to medical research when I die, on an album for CBS Records. In hindsight, it is not surprising that I later developed a close affinity for the Native American Trickster as both muse and subject/object of research when I embarked on doctoral studies in Anthropology at UBC, exploring the role of humour and irony in contemporary Aboriginal art. When the research was completed, UBC Press published it as an elegant book. The book’s favourable reception, and the many friendships and insights I developed while conducting my research, eventually led me to my present position as New Sun Chair in Aboriginal Art and Culture at Carleton University. Here, I get to work with students in Canadian Studies and Art History, teach courses on Aboriginal issues and visual arts, screen films by Canadian Aboriginal film makers for students in countries like China and Brazil, and host an annual Aboriginal arts conference. The opportunities afforded me have been countless. It has been a remarkable journey for a kid from art college taking a break from the music business. And the journey continues…

And now…a more formal Biography

I have been a member of the Carleton University faculty since 2001when I was appointed New Sun Chair in Aboriginal Art and Culture, the first position of its kind in Canada. I hold a joint appointment in the School of Canadian Studies and the Department of Art History in the School for Studies in Art and Culture. Since 2002 I have organized the annual New Sun Conference on Aboriginal Arts which will celebrate its 10th Anniversary in March, 2011. I teach both undergraduate and graduate courses on indigenous topics and have a special interest in contemporary Aboriginal issues and their aesthetic manifestation in literature, film and the visual arts. I am also interested in postmodern theory, postcolonial theory, comparative indigenous minorities, cultural representation in museums, and the field of humour studies. Many of these interests were brought together in my book, The Trickster Shift: Humour and Irony in Contemporary Native Art (UBC Press/U Washington Press), which won an American Book Award in 2000 for its contribution to multicultural literature. I also conducted post-doctoral research on Aboriginal cartoonists at Simon Frazer University. In 2005 I co-curated the exhibition, About Face: Self- Portraits by Native American, First Nations and Inuit Artists, shown at the Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian in Santa Fe, New Mexico. More recently I have lectured on Canadian Aboriginal art and cinema in China and Brazil. In former lives I have worked as a graphic designer, television satirist, singer-songwriter and recording artist. In academia, such an eclectic mix is called “interdisciplinarity.”  See:, and facebook.