Carl Beam Biography


Carl Beam Biography



Carl Beam (1943-2005), born Carl Edward Migwans at M’Chigeeng First Nation (West Bay), Manitoulin Island, was a ground-breaking contemporary artist who created opportunities for future generations of Indigenous artists working in Canada. He is recognized as the first contemporary Indigenous artist to have work purchased by the National Gallery of Canada.

Born to an Ojibwe mother and American father, Beam’s elders gave him the name “Ahkideh” from the Anishinaabe word “aakode,” which means “one who is brave.” From the age of ten to eighteen, he was sent to the Garnier Residential School, in Spanish, Ontario, an experience that influenced much of his later artwork.

Throughout the 1970s, Beam attended multiple educational institutions to further his artistic career. He graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts from the University of Victoria and pursued a master’s degree at the University of Alberta. During this time, Beam developed his signature style, which used photo-transfer, collage, and mixed media techniques to create large-scale and visually commanding art. His prolific artistic career also encompassed painting, ceramics, sculpture, and performance. In 1979, he married his wife Ann Beam, with whom he often collaborated.

Carl Beam’s artwork has been featured in many prominent exhibitions, including the National Gallery’s Indigena: Perspectives of Indigenous Peoples on Five Hundred Years (1992) and a touring retrospective of his work in 2010. He was inducted into the Royal Canadian Academy of the Arts in 2000 and received the Governor General’s Award in Visual and Media Arts in 2005.

“My works are like little puzzles, interesting little games. I play a game with humanity and with creativity. I ask viewers to play the participatory game of dreaming ourselves as each other. In this we find out that we’re all basically human…. My work is not fabricated for the art market. There’s no market for intellectual puzzles or works of spiritual emancipation.”

-- Carl Beam, 1999

Publication Date



Carl Beam, Art, Contemporary, Indigenous, Creative Campus Galleries Collection


Arts and Humanities

Carl Beam Biography