Seated figure made from white materials.

White Elephant

Location: Cambridge Art Galleries | Idea Exchange, Queens Square, Cambridge

July 22, 2021 - August 7, 2021

Presented in partnership with Cambridge Art Galleries | Idea Exchange

CAFKA has commissioned Shary Boyle’s White Elephant for the 2021 public art biennale, a 9-foot tall, seated figure with a head that electro-mechanically rotates at irregular intervals. This gigantic figure is constructed with structural steel and shaped with foam, dressed in a custom hand-knitted sweater, bespoke trousers, sourced dress shoes and wig -- all in white. The hands and face are rendered in porcelain, and its head enigmatically turns 360 degrees at irregular intervals. The work is inspired by the artist’s investigation into the historical moment of racial recognition in Canadian (and world) culture, in particular, Canada’s grappling with its white supremacist/colonial settler history and our currently evolving comprehension of what it means to be “white.” CAFKA will animate the themes of the work with a suggested reading list, public lectures, book clubs, and discussion groups as part of the Summer Reading Series: White Elephant Edition.

An interpretive brochure including the White Elephant reading list compiled by Shary Boyle to accompany this installation is available for download.


Artist Talk with Shary Boyle, The Making of White Elephant


In the Studio


About the Artist

Shary Boyle works across diverse media, including sculpture, drawing, installation and performance. She is known for her bold, fantastical explorations of the figure. Highly crafted and deeply imaginative, her practice is activated through collaboration, volunteerism and apprenticeship. Boyle’s work considers the social history of ceramic figurines, animist mythologies, antiquated technologies and folk art forms to create a symbolic, feminist and politically charged language uniquely her own.

Shary Boyle’s work is exhibited and collected internationally. She represented Canada with her project Music for Silence at the 55th Venice Biennale in 2013, and has been commissioned to create a new project for the 2021 Kaunus Biennial in Lithuania. Boyle is the recipient of Canada’s Hnatyshyn Foundation Award and the Gershon Iskowitz Prize. In 2021, the Ontario College of Art and Design University awarded her with an Honorary Doctorate of Fine Arts.

Outside the Palace of Me, a solo touring exhibition of Shary Boyle’s work, will be presented at The Gardiner Museum, Toronto and the Museum of Fine Arts, Montreal in 2022, and the Vancouver Art Gallery in 2023. Art Canada Institute will publish an accompanying monograph in Fall 2021.

Image: Shary Boyle, White Elephant (2021). Aluminum, polystyrene, porcelain, underglaze, synthetic hair, epoxy, textiles, motor, electronics. 244 cm x 152 x 212 cm. Commissioned by Contemporary Art Forum Kitchener + Area (CAFKA). Photo: John Jones 2021.