First Nations Now: Contemporary Innovations

Meryl McMaster | Lawrence Paul Yuxweluptun | Sonny Assu | Robert Davidson | Steve Smith | Sabina Hill

First Nations Now: Contemporary Innovations

Meryl McMaster | Lawrence Paul Yuxweluptun | Sonny Assu | Robert Davidson | Steve Smith | Sabina Hill

The Baldwin Gallery

11.11.2017 - 19.12.2017

Co-curated by Verity Seward, Dennison Smith, and Oceana Masterman-Smith.

Indigenous Canadian artists, from the Northwest Pacific Coast to the Cree heartland, explore hybridity and autobiography. Traditional art practices and iconography meet remix culture, minimalism, performance art and corporeal narrative, reconstructing personal and shared identities betwixt realities and contemporising traditional stories. Recent serigraphs and historic lithographs by Robert Davidson, Haida; sculptural photography by Meryl McMaster, Plains Cree; digital interventions by Kwakwaka’wakw Sonny Assu; panel and hide paintings by Kwakwaka’wakw Steve Smith; and a 2017 form-line tree drawing by Lawrence Paul Yuxweluptun, Coast Salish, as well as the place-based collaborative furniture of Pacific Coast artist and designer, Sabina Hill.

Robert Davidson, Mouse Woman, 2016, Serigraph, 25” x 19”, ed. 43/71

Robert Davidson: The Primacy of Story

In The Border Trilogy, novelist Cormac McCarthy writes, ‘things separate from their stories have no meaning’. While the contention may be modified, it cannot ever be fully dismissed: it is a reality that dogs museums and which underlines the primacy of narrative in First Nations art, however abstracted. From autobiography, to current conditions and colonial history, to ancient creation stories, embedded narrative remains central to contemporary indigenous art.

Robert Davidson’s work expands and reclaims his understanding of Haida cultural practice. The sinuous abstraction of Child of Mouse Woman offers a contemporary response to a narrative steeped in generations of oral tradition and reinterpretation. His serigraph, Child of Mouse Woman, explores the elusive figure of Mouse Woman (Qaganjaat), a wily and sage guardian and maternal figure known for her helpful ability to guide young characters across the earth, returning order after human encounters with the spirit realm. There are many renditions of Mouse Woman stories. Here is but one:

The ocean god, Nangdldastlas, who lived in the deep waters of the Hecate Strait, possessed a magnificent hat which enabled the wearer, with a twitch of the eye, to disrupt the tides and summon great storms. One day, Nangdldastlas’s troublesome son took his father’s hat and journeyed to Haida Gwaii to ask the Chief for permission to marry his daughter. When the Chief refused him, the young god kidnapped the girl, leaving behind the hat as a bridal gift and bond. The girl’s brothers, seeking assistance from the spirit world, enlisted Mouse Woman to guide them: they voyaged through the unknown depths to retrieve their sister and return the hat, releasing her from the marriage. Back on Haida Gwaii, however, she discovered she was pregnant. The girl gave birth to Nangdldastlas, incarnated in the guise of his own grandson. Following Nangdldastlas’s careful instructions, the girl placed the baby in a cradle painted with clouds, paddled into Hecate Strait and dropped the cradle in the water. As the cradle sank, it rotated. Through the body of the Chief’s daughter, the Haida people had offered Nangdldastlas the gift of rebirth, and in return, with each rotation of his cradle, as he returned to his natural home, the baby Nangdldastlas calmed the seas and replenished the ocean with an abundance of fish.

Text by Verity Seward

© 2020 by Verity Seward