Visual arts critics' picks: First Nations take spring's visual-art spotlight
Throughout the Lower Mainland, the visual-arts spotlight this season is shining on contemporary First Nations artists. They may be young, mid-career, or senior, drawing upon raw elements of 21st-century street culture or eons-old village and clan traditions—or mashing everything together in wholly unexpected ways. As a happy introduction to such hybrid possibilities, check out Annie Ross’s Forest One, a 1956 Nash Metropolitan covered inside and out with wrapped, twined, and plaited cedar bark and other natural materials, on view in the Great Hall of the UBC Museum of Anthropology from March 20 to May 27. Its evocations are many, as are the pleasures of encountering it.
Beat Nation: Art, Hip Hop and Aboriginal Culture
(To June 3 at the Vancouver Art Gallery)
Urban youth culture meets First Nations identity in this exciting and highly political group show. Through a provocative range of street art and traditional media, including graffiti, comix, rap-style performance, sound art, painting, sculpture, and mixed-media installation, 27 artists demonstrate how hip-hop, skateboarding, music videos, fashion photography, and other pop-culture forms can be juxtaposed with treasured traditions (such as storytelling) and long-standing concerns (such as land rights and the preservation of original languages).
The Draw: In this survey of artists from across Canada and the United States, including Dana Claxton, Brian Jungen, Sonny Assu, Skeena Reece, and Nicholas Galanin, expect to see everything from neo-Native bustiers and carved wooden turntables to painted car hoods and live video remixes of Hollywood films.
Kesu’: The Art and Life of Doug Cranmer
(March 16 to September 3 at the Museum of Anthropology)
The late Kwakwaka’wakw artist Doug Cranmer—who preferred to call himself a “whittler” or “doodler”—was one of the most important and accomplished carvers and painters of his generation. Adept in all the media he turned his hand to, he created a range of internationally sought-after artworks, from totem poles, masks, and bentwood boxes to silkscreen prints and paintings on mahogany plywood. He was also a larger-than-life personality, pioneering gallerist, and influential teacher, in his native Alert Bay and beyond.
The Draw: This exhibition, along with the book that accompanies it, represents the first major examination of Cranmer’s enormous achievement.
Vision Machine: Marianne Nicolson and Etienne Zack
(April 7 to June 10 at the Surrey Art Gallery)
This inspired pairing of two brilliant West Coast artists asks questions about the impact of old and new technologies on the making of art. Look for Zack’s big and complex paintings and Nicolson’s intricate “shadow machines” as means of addressing environmental and economic issues, while also examining acts of creation and the workings of the imagination.
The Draw: New work by either one of these immensely thoughtful artists is always deserving of a close look; in this two-person show, the effect should be amplified exponentially.
Hua Jin: My Big Family
(April 20 to June 10 at the Richmond Art Gallery)
Using photography and video, emerging artist Hua Jin examines the impact of China’s one-child-per-family policy. The artist is interested in revealing not only her personal experience but also the wider consequences of the one-child policy for family and community dynamics and, beyond those, the functioning of the nation as a whole.
The Draw: In a sensitive and paradoxically intimate way, Hua Jin’s art addresses the most massive “family planning” experiment in history.
(April 27 to June 30 at the Contemporary Art Gallery)
The Los Angeles–based Monahan challenges traditional notions of both figurative sculpture and museum display by juxtaposing cast-bronze fragments of body parts with everything from drywall and sheet metal to Styrofoam and wax paper. His sculptures and drawings, often encased in vitrinelike containers, evoke the past while also suggesting some future-fiction version of a museum.
The Draw: This will be the first solo show in Canada for the internationally acclaimed Monahan.
(May 2 to July 28 at the Maple Ridge Art Gallery)
This exhibition surveys the painted work of acclaimed Haisla artist Lyle Wilson. Born in Kitamaat Village and based in Vancouver, Wilson has spent more than 25 years exploring the creative possibilities of the painted line, interested particularly in the evidence it represents of the rhythm, sweep, and peculiarities of the human hand. Recently, he’s been using the medium to create territorial maps, reinterpret linguistic systems, and translate oral histories into graphic forms.
The Draw: Among the many attractions of this mid-career survey is a painted “alphabet” composed of Northwest Coast creatures and crest figures. It’s unique to the artist and marks both his individuality and his understanding of language as fundamental to culture.