Van­cou­ver-area mu­se­ums show­case In­dige­nous arts and cul­ture.

Canada's History - - CONTENTS - by Phil Koch

North­west Coast In­dige­nous art and cul­tural prac­tices that were ac­tively sup­pressed a cen­tury ago are to­day widely cel­e­brated both in tra­di­tional forms and via new ex­per­i­ments and man­i­fes­ta­tions. While sev­eral Bri­tish Columbia First Na­tions have es­tab­lished cul­tural cen­tres in their own com­mu­ni­ties, a visit to the Van­cou­ver area presents nu­mer­ous op­por­tu­ni­ties to see and to learn about the re­gion’s In­dige­nous art.

When ar­riv­ing or de­part­ing via the Van­cou­ver In­ter­na­tional Air­port, sit­u­ated on the tra­di­tional ter­ri­tory of the Musqueam First Na­tion, vis­i­tors en­counter large sculp­tural in­stal­la­tions fea­tur­ing mostly tra­di­tional forms that have been cre­ated within the past few decades by lead­ing In­dige­nous artists. They in­clude pieces by Musqueam

carver Su­san Point, whose richly evoca­tive

Cedar Con­nec­tion sits be­side the walk­way to the Canada Line SkyTrain sta­tion, and Bill Reid’s haunt­ing The Spirit of Haida

Gwaii: The Jade Ca­noe in the in­ter­na­tional ter­mi­nal. In these and other works, links be­tween na­ture and cul­ture are in­ter­wo­ven as part of com­mu­nity and fam­ily his­to­ries.

Coastal ar­ti­sans have long pro­duced skil­fully crafted items for cul­tural and cer­e­mo­nial pur­poses as well as for trade. Sculp­tures, prints, jew­ellery, and other items made by In­dige­nous artists can be seen and pur­chased at the Bill Reid Gallery in down­town Van­cou­ver. Mean­while, as part of re­vi­tal­iza­tion ef­forts in the city’s Down­town East­side, Skwachàys Lodge al­lows vis­i­tors to watch as works are cre­ated in its main-floor gallery by In­dige­nous artists in res­i­dence. It also of­fers themed ho­tel rooms.

Across the Bur­rard Bridge from down­town, the Mu­seum of Van­cou­ver’s re­mark­able Haida Now ex­hi­bi­tion — which con­tin­ues at least un­til April 2020 — was cre­ated in part­ner­ship with the Haida Gwaii Mu­seum. Dozens of in­tri­cate argillite carv­ings, in­clud­ing pieces by renowned carver Charles Eden­shaw, are among more than 450 his­tor­i­cal and con­tem­po­rary works pre­sent­ing as­pects of Haida cul­ture. The ex­hi­bi­tion ex­plains how art­works show his­to­ries, fam­ily lin­eages, and so­cial stand­ing while play­ing eco­nomic and cer­e­mo­nial roles, and it places the par­tic­u­lar Haida artis­tic “di­alect” in the con­text of work pro­duced by other coastal First Na­tions. It also con­trasts au­then­tic work with “ar­ti­fakes” —

mass-pro­duced repli­cas — while ex­plain­ing that items such as clan crests are pro­tected in­tel­lec­tual prop­erty.

At the Univer­sity of Bri­tish Columbia, the Mu­seum of An­thro­pol­ogy houses im­pres­sive col­lec­tions and rare sculp­tures in a build­ing de­signed by Van­cou­ver ar­chi­tect Arthur Erick­son, who in­cor­po­rated el­e­ments of Haida ar­chi­tec­ture. Thou­sands of ar­ti­facts from First Na­tions (and from around the world) are dis­played, typ­i­cally fol­low­ing con­sul­ta­tions with mem­bers of the rep­re­sented com­mu­ni­ties. The mu­seum grounds in­clude large totem poles and a pair of Haida houses, while the newly opened In­dian Res­i­den­tial Schools His­tory and Di­a­logue Cen­tre is nearby on the UBC cam­pus.

A two-hour trip north to Whistler via the Sea to Sky High­way of­fers breath­tak­ing views of is­lands and moun­tains while giv­ing a sense of the abun­dant lands and seas that pro­vided the ma­te­rial and cul­tural wealth of coastal First Na­tions as well as in­spi­ra­tion for their art forms. The Squamish Lil’wat Cul­tural Cen­tre, built at Whistler in time for the 2010 Win­ter Olympics, op­er­ates as a part­ner­ship be­tween two First Na­tions. It show­cases Squamish and Lil’wat art, his­tory, and cul­ture via hourly guided tours through a unique build­ing with vis­tas onto the sur­round­ing for­est.

From there it’s a short walk to the Au­dain Art Mu­seum, housed in an award-win­ning build­ing by Patkau Ar­chi­tects that opened in 2016. His­tor­i­cal ar­ti­facts are dis­played along­side re­cent and con­tem­po­rary art by Lawrence Paul Yuxwelup­tun, Brian Jun­gen, and other In­dige­nous and non- In­dige­nous B.C.-based artists. Tem­po­rary ex­hibits dur­ing a re­cent visit in­cluded Heilt­suk artist Shawn Hunt’s high-tech ver­sion of an In­dige­nous trans­for­ma­tion mask. Hunt’s mask — which pro­duces a dra­matic “mixed-re­al­ity” au­dio-vis­ual ex­pe­ri­ence for those who wear it — was ex­hib­ited along­side a more tra­di­tional mask by Robert David­son.

At the same time, the ex­hi­bi­tion Beau Dick: Rev­o­lu­tion­ary Spirit set the work of the Kwak­waka’wakw carver, hered­i­tary chief, and com­mu­nity ac­tivist along­side pieces cre­ated by his fore­run­ners, his col­lab­o­ra­tors, and artists he men­tored. The show was one of the mu­seum’s rec­on­cil­ia­tory ini­tia­tives, and, ac­cord­ing to cu­ra­tor Dar­rin J. Martens, it pre­sented “an op­por­tu­nity for in­creased di­a­logue re­lated to is­sues af­fect­ing In­dige­nous com­mu­ni­ties in the wake of the Res­i­den­tial School ex­pe­ri­ence….”

The Au­dain also dis­plays nu­mer­ous paint­ings by Emily Carr, who fa­mously por­trayed coastal cul­tures and land­scapes, but the largest col­lec­tion of her work be­longs to the Van­cou­ver Art Gallery. There a new cu­ra­to­rial pro­gram pairs Carr’s paint­ings with works by other artists — such as Chi­nese ink pain­ter Lui Shou Kwan or Kwak­waka’wakw con­tem­po­rary artist Sonny Assu — in spe­cial the­matic ex­hi­bi­tions. And in Van­cou­ver’s Stan­ley Park, totem poles by prom­i­nent In­dige­nous carvers wel­come and im­press vis­i­tors — func­tions per­formed by sim­i­lar poles in coastal com­mu­ni­ties for gen­er­a­tions.

Left: The Mu­seum of An­thro­pol­ogy at the Univer­sity of Bri­tish Columbia. Top right: A spin­dle whorl by artist Kwet­símet (Keith Na­ha­nee) at the Squamish Lil’wat Cul­tural Cen­tre in Whistler, B.C. Above: A woven mask by Grace Wil­son is part of the Haida Now ex­hi­bi­tion at the Mu­seum of Van­cou­ver.

Top left and cen­tre: Kwak­waka’wakw masks are among thou­sands of items in the Mu­seum of An­thro­pol­ogy’s Mul­tiver­sity Gal­leries, while Bill Reid’s sculp­ture The Raven and the First Men is dis­played in the Van­cou­ver mu­seum’s Bill Reid Ro­tunda.

Above: Skwachàys Lodge Abo­rig­i­nal Ho­tel & Gallery in Van­cou­ver in­cludes a rooftop sweat lodge and smudge room.

Be­low: He-yay mey­muy (Big Flood), by Squamish and Kwak­waka’wakw artist Xwalack­tun (Rick Harry), at the en­trance to the Au­dain Art Mu­seum in Whistler, B.C.

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