Saturday, June 6, 2020
News, analysis and commentary by UBC Journalism students


Sam Durant used archival photographs to re-create a sign used at a Native American civil protest in the U.S.

Aboriginal artists challenge Canada's colonial legacy

Acting as a healthy antidote to nationalistic Olympic fervour, several prominent art shows feature uncompromising looks at Canada’s relationship with…

By Cecilia Greyson , in Vancouver Art Seen , on March 22, 2010 Tags: , , , , ,

Sam Durant used archival photographs to re-create a sign used at a Native American civil protest in the U.S.

Acting as a healthy antidote to nationalistic Olympic fervour, several prominent art shows feature uncompromising looks at Canada’s relationship with aboriginal communities, and the legacy of colonialism, racism, and inequity.

These include Arthur Renwick’s show at the Richmond Art Gallery, ‘s work in , and a retrospective of Lawrence Paul Yuxweluptun’s at the Contemporary Art Gallery.

One of the most engaging shows currently on display is at Vancouver’s new on Hastings Street.

Curated by Candice Hopkins as part of the , the show features works by nine artists. The title of the show was inspired by two 1997 ink cartoons by Brian Jungen, displayed at the entrance to the gallery.  Inspired by a 1950’s tourist postcard depicting B.C. totems, Jungen’s sketches show signposts pointing in opposite directions, labelled with oppositional phrases “First Person / Third World” and “First Nation / Second Nature”.

Rebecca Belmore, an internationally-known artist, represented Canada at the 2005 Venice Biennale.

One of the strongest pieces is’s site-specific piece, sister (2010). Dominating the storefront windows, the piece is a powerful, pared-down image.

Consisting of three backlit photo screens, the work shows an image of a First Nations woman wearing a denim jacket and jeans, standing with her back to the camera and her arms upraised.

Larger than life, the figure aggressively confronts the viewer in full colour, but the averted face and stance signify the submissive gesture of a forced police frisking.

and Andrew Lee’s site-specific installation, everything up to the sky and down to the centre of the earth, seems particularly poignant. The artists collected dirt and gravel from the adjacent city block, and displayed the detritus they found in long transparent tubes mounted on a wall. For viewers, it’s a devastating reminder of the who came from this community.

One of the most confrontational works is Sam Durant ‘s 2008 piece, You are on Indian Land show some respect. Inspired by archival photos of civil rights protests in the U.S., Durant duplicated a protest sign on translucent film, and illuminated the printed text with florescent bulbs.

In this show, context is everything. The gallery’s location on the has a particular resonance, perched on the edge of Vancouver’s downtown eastside neighbourhood. With one of the poorest communities in Canada and a large aboriginal population, Canada’s traumatic colonial legacy is a living reality for many.

It’s refreshing to see curators commit to rigorous, socially relevant projects like this. But I’m left wishing that this kind of dialogue isn’t relegated simply to galleries, but brought to government arenas, where change and progress seem to occur at a glacial pace. I’d love to see Stephen Harper toured around this show by the curator and artists, but somehow I doubt I’ll get my wish.