Bob Haozous (Chiricahua Apache)
Hohokam #1 (Sky City Airport, Phoenix, AZ)
I was born in 1969 in Comox, British Columbia. I am a member of the Dzawada‘enuxw Tribe of the Kwakwaka‘wakw First Nations, my mother being Dzawada‘enuxw and my father a Scottish immigrant from the Isle of Lewis. In 1996 I graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts from Emily Carr Institute of Art and Design. In 1999 I completed a Masters in Fine Arts at the University of Victoria. In the early 1990s I apprenticed with a master carver in traditional Kwakwaka‘wakw design. Since 1992 I have exhibited work locally, nationally and internationally, mostly in public art galleries and site-specific works. I create both strictly traditional works for ceremonial purposes confined to the Kwakwaka‘wakw community, and conceptually based works for public art spaces.
My work for public art spaces are extensions on traditional Northwest Coast artistic expressions. I engage in the exploration of traditional concepts and incorporate contemporary media into the visual presentation of these concepts. While I consider that the material component of Northwest Coast cultural production is well represented in museums and commercial galleries, I fear that the conceptual foundations of this work are endangered owing to radical acculturation and language loss. Creating artworks that address these issues and express traditional concepts in new ways in public art spaces is my way of perpetuating and preserving Kwakwaka‘wakw/Aboriginal culture as well as sharing those concepts with a wider audience.Marianne Nicolson’s Artspeak installation centres around an altered bentwood chest constructed from cedar and etched glass. While bentwood chests are traditionally meant to hold articles of value, Nicholson’s decorated chest will contain and spill light, so that shadows are cast onto the gallery walls. These projected shadows index the rich and ephemeral concepts from which this object is conceived. The viewer, upon entering the gallery, will physically interrupt the throw of light to add another layer of shadows. Referencing the traditional tale of how Raven stole the sun from a chief (who kept it in a box) to release it for the entire world’s benefit, Nicolson’s Bakwina`tsi: the Container for Souls proposes a distinction between the object and it’s contents. Nicolson’s chest is both a play on a consumable object and a receptacle and/or projector of cultural dialogue.Marianne Nicolson, a member of the Dzawada’enuxw Tribe of the Kwakwaka’wakw Nation, first came to prominence in 1998 when she scaled a vertical rock face in Kingcome Inlet to paint a 28 x 38-foot pictograph—the first in the inlet for over sixty years—to mark the continued vitality of her ancestral village of Gwa’yi. In a similarly monumental gesture, Nicolson’s site-specific project The House of the Ghosts imaginatively transforms the Georgia Street façade of the Vancouver Art Gallery into a Northwest Coast ceremonial house. Using high-powered lighting, Nicolson will project the vision of a house front and totem poles onto the Gallery façade from dusk to dawn every night. By altering the Gallery in this way, the building itself becomes a site of cultural exchange, emphasizing its importance as a transformative space while wryly commenting on its historic role as a courthouse and jail where, decades ago, First Nations peoples were punished for defying the government’s Potlach ban. Nicolson sees this work as a positive and symbolic reassertion of a culture in a place where it was once forbidden, in a gesture that speaks to the vibrancy of Kwakwaka’wakw culture and the need to sustain it.
Alan Michelson (Mohawk)
An artwork in the form of a panoramic, room-spanning frieze installed in the richly ornamented Glyndor House at Wave Hill for an exhibition commemorating the Hudson River Quadricentennial. In place of the usual Old World classical themes it substitutes a local Native American iconography of beaver skulls, corn, squash, and oysters—whole, devoured, or damaged.
Anna Tsouhlarakis (Navajo/Creek/Greek)
In the Sacred Forest
Wood, glass, metal, plastic, wire, spray paint, glue, plaster
Erica Lord, Artifact Piece, Revisited, performed in 2008 at the National Museum of the American Indian. Lord is Athabascan and Iñupiaq.
This performance reflects the ever-present theme of the exhibition of peoples and lived materials, that is such a conflict in indigenous aesthetic issues. For centuries Western bodies of academia meticulously “collected”, “gathered” (to use the conspicuous terms) materials for exhibition of the many “exotic” and “primitive” nations of the world. Such collections then added prestige to the visual rhetoric that the non-Native used/s to define and confine “Native”, for it is hard to imagine white collectors not having the colourful, popular picture of “Native” in mind.
It is hard enough for objects that are defined by their use and by their makers - clothing, ceremonial garb, baskets, boats - to convey a people when they are not being lived in. But this work also shines a light on the more insidious topic in the exhibiting of peoples - the active collection and exhibition of human remains. The constant fight to repatriate human remains in museum and university collections around the world has often ignited opposition from the scientific community, that I can’t speak to (other than to say how can any individual or body, regardless of their purpose, claim to have rights to a person).
But let’s look at this from a curatorial perspective, for the vast majority of these remains are not actively studied. What, could exhibiting, collecting, hoarding away these stolen people seek to accomplish beside upholding the idea of indigenous cultures as stagnating at best, more often dead, and so the pretext of white superiority, because it lives on? Beside exciting an attraction to the macabre, that keeps alive both the myth of indigenous peoples as bloodthirsty, and especially the role of Native Americans as enemy, by conjuring up images of gore and warfare? And what does it say that this is the theme most highlighted in exhibition placards, the story of war, and not that in North America, orders were sent out by courts that Native Americans should be killed and their bodies taken, for extermination, and implicitly, for sport? That is the real bloodthirst.
And in this and any academic rhetoric, is lost the fact that the exhibited material was a person, with a life entirely their own. In such exhibition design, the assertion is that - whether the material is human remains or lived objects - a fractional artifact from a single life can be made into an easily digestible visual, and expanded and held up as a representative first for a whole community, then a whole nation, then for all that falls under “Native American” then again for all that falls under “Native.” And so Lord places among the traditional clothing and jewelry, childhood photos, and in an entirely separate display are photos and objects that could in no way, visually, be called “Native” except that they belong to a Native person. But through ownership they are as native as the anorak and the body lying beside them. And the body one confronts is neither dusty and withered nor battle-torn, but warmly lit, healthy and peaceful. And still as a viewer one can’t know her by seeing her, though of course, one knows she is alive. She is still reduced to “exhibited material” and if she exists as a person it is to reject one’s “viewing”, to separate viewing from knowing. So when an exhibited person is as present as they possibly could be, and still one can not know them by viewing them, how can a withered piece of a person from another time be expected to speak for a multitude of living nations?
Nadia Myre (Algonquin member of the Kitigan Zibi Anishnabeg)
Red and white glass beads, stroud cloth, beaded over copies of the Indian Act
More than 230 people assisted in creating this work.