Vancouver is home to Indigenous people from many different backgrounds and cultures, but walking through the city's downtown core, you may not realize it.
Indigenous artists are hoping to change that perception with four murals that were unveiled this week, commissioned by the City of Vancouver as part of its Canada 150+ program.
A handful of artists and city representatives shared the stories behind the works with a small group of people on Tuesday afternoon, in a walking tour following an official artists' reception at the Drum Is Calling Festival.
Haisla Collins collaborated on Spirits of the Realms, a mural spanning Beatty Street from Dunsmuir to Georgia, along with her group Ravens' Eye Crew, which includes artists Jerry Whitehead, Sharifah Marsden, Mehren Razmpoosh, Richard Shorty, and Vanessa Walterson.
Collins explained to the Straight that the concept of the piece came from a shared intention to to honour the many indigenous cultures that come together in Vancouver. The long mural covers the four corners of the medicine wheel of the plains people with the background colours black, white, yellow and red. The piece also represents the Northwest Coast people who have three realms of earth sky, and sea.
"As you're walking through the mural, you're walking through the four corners of the medicine wheel, and the three realms. Which I think is kinda magical," said Collins.
Collins is a self-proclaimed "tree lady", and her modernist-inspired trees can be seen dispersed across piece, as well as her portrait of spirit of the Sea Goddess. The piece also depicting powwow dancers, traditional beading patterns, totem faces, and images from traditional stories like the Haida story of Raven freeing the light.
During the tour, the artists of Raven's Eye Crew were still busy working towards completing the piece--many of its members helping do line work on each other's designs. Collins said she's excited at how the piece is coming to life.
"It's really coming together and once all the lines are connected I think it's going to be amazing," said Collins. "I think the work is going to be incredibly epic once it's done."
Raven's Eye Crew's proposal was chosen from 47 applicants who responded to the city's call for indigenous artists in January of this year.
Another piece now decorating the city's downtown core is Jay Havens's Heartbeat, found on the east windows of the Queen Elizabeth Theatre. Visible from Cambie Street, the piece depicts 15 people representative of the urban Indigenous population, and refers to two historical discussions of indigenous identity: Chief Dan George's speech at the Canadian Centennial, and Daphne Odjig's 1978 mural, The Indian in Transition.
The title Heartbeat refers to the beating drum, a motif from Odjig's mural that Havens purposely referenced in his mural that combines woodland and West Coast artistic styles.
Heartbeat is the largest piece Havens has ever produced, and it was mentioned on the tour that the location is double appropriate considering Havens' practice as a professional costume designer.
A piece by Kelly Cannell can also be found on the west side of the Queen Elizabeth Theatre. Cannell's lightbox is titled Sea to Sky and showcases Canada's wildlife, landscape, and diversity. Cannel's piece features an image of Mother Earth blowing life from the northern mountains, as well as the figure of the Thunderbird.
Ryan McKenna's installation Time Immemorial can be found in the Vancouver Library Central Branch, in the form of banners depicting current indigenous residents of the city. Each drawing took 60 hours to complete and serves as a reminder of the resilient, diverse indigenous population that still lives in the city, drawing on themes of knowledge, tradition, and family.
Two more pieces are set to be completed this fall--a piece by Krystle Coughlin at the Canadian Line Station at at Georgia and Granville, and a piece by Larissa Healy and Shadae Johnson at an alley behind Army Navy at West Cordova and Hastings.
Collins said it's been an honour to work with talented artists to bring indigenous stories to such a large canvas.
"It's about representing Indigenous cultures, indigenous oral histories and stories, and really speaking for indingeous people in a way that I feel hasn't actually happened in this city before. Not on this scale, anyway," said Collins. "It's an incredible experience, I feel honoured to be a part of it."