Two new public art pieces have been unveiled this month as part of the City of Vancouver’s Year of Reconciliation.
The artwork of Alexa Hatanaka is being featured at bus stops around the city, and Emilie Crewe’s video Making Circles: The Dancing Chilkat Blanket is being screened at the corner of Robson and Granville. These are the two most recent additions to the city’s public art project for the Year of Reconciliation.
“The city’s Year of Reconciliation is about increasing awareness, healing, opportunities for new relationships,” says Karen Henry, the public art planner for the project. “Reconciliation is a process, so it seemed like temporary artwork distributed around the city was a good way to engage with ideas and potential.
Both artists were largely inspired by the First Nations communities they worked in. For Crewe, the artifacts were particularly special.
“I’m not of aboriginal descent, so my experience as an artist has always been linked to the artwork of that community, which is very prevalent in B.C.,” she says. “It’s inspiring and the craftsmanship is amazing.”
Crewe’s video depicts the story of the return of a prized Chilkat blanket to its home in Alert Bay, B.C. The blanket was originally woven by Anislaga (Mary Ebbetts Hunt). The Tlingit princess wove 13 of these intricate blankets to give to her children, but many went missing in the decades that followed.
The blanket was found at an auction in Paris, and the U’mista Cultural Centre in Alert Bay acquired it for its collection. Crewe was there for the unveiling.
“It was a really gorgeous experience. It felt like an important moment,” she says. “These people have been burned pretty bad, and as Canadians, this whole Year of Reconciliation, it’s been a long time coming.”
Crewe interspersed footage of the returned blanket with shots of Donna Cranmer, a Kwakwaka’wakw master weaver and Anislaga descendant, weaving her own blanket in the present.
Hatanaka’s work was also influenced by First Nations culture, largely from the time that she spent in Nunavut and Nunavik, painting murals and leading youth workshops.
“It just seemed like a perfect fit to bring the young generation into the dialogue about reconciliation,” she says. “How it affects the generations who weren’t themselves in residential schools, but are still part of the conversation.”
Hatanaka’s works are relief prints based on photos that she took during her time in the Arctic. She was drawn to the energy of the children that lived there, and would come visit her while she was painting.
“You end up having these fun relationships with these really cool bilingual, sometimes trilingual kids that have a huge range of experiences,” she says. “Everything from experiencing everything the Internet has to offer today to hunting with their grandparents.”
The two artists are different in their approach to the subject matter, and Henry believes that it is important to have differences in cultures and mediums, in order to continue a dialogue about reconciliation through art.
“We have a dialogue between aboriginal and non-aboriginal artists,” she says. “Different cultures—Hong Kong, Quebecois, European, First Nations (coastal and inland, urban and rural)—different artistic mediums (video, photography, print, painting), all endeavouring to represent the same theme.”
Crewe’s work will be displayed on various screens until August, and Hatanaka’s work will be featured at bus stops until May 5. Other artwork from the project will be displayed until October.