indigenous art


For additional examples, please see all Canadian reviews since 1989 at Preview of the Visual Arts.


Woven & Sewn in Time
Spirit Wrestler Gallery
Vancouver BC– Mar 21-Apr 11, 2009

Woven & Sewn in Time is a surprising collection of woven and sewn artworks created by artists from Alaska, British Columbia, the Northwest Territories, Nunavut and Nunavik, Ontario and Labrador, as well as from Aotearoa in New Zealand.

The exhibition showcases numerous pieces that demonstrate how, over the past decade, traditions of anonymous, utilitarian container-making have given way to innovative contemporary styles. Unique baskets, tea dolls, lidded boxes and bowls and even a teapot were created with materials ranging from glass, silver, stone, brass, merino wool and jade to porcupine quills, white spruce roots, whale baleen, caribou antlers and tufting.

The Spirit Wrestler Gallery encouraged the artists to stretch their imaginations and take their traditions in a more contemporary direction by utilizing new materials, colours and designs. Included are unusual flax weavings from Maori artist Christina Hurihia Wirihana; quill baskets by Ojibway artist Lorraine Besito; an intricately carved stone basket with a tiny portrait of a woman weaving on top by Billy Gauthier, Alaskan baleen baskets by James Omnik Sr.; ornate caribou tufting boxes by Athabascan artist Selina (Alexander) De Wilde; and blown glass baskets by Preston Singletary, an Alaskan Tlingit artist.



Hailans to Ailans
Alcheringa Gallery
Victoria BC – November 5–27, 2009

Hailans to Ailans is an exhibit of work by contemporary Papua New Guinea artists previously shown at Rebecca Hossack Gallery in London, England. Described as international in scope, it includes pieces by two renowned Coast Salish artists, lessLIE (Leslie Robert Sam) and John Marston.

The title means “Highlands to Islands” in Tok Pisin, an English-based creole spoken in Papua New Guinea. Through weaving, painting, performance and sculpture, the artists explore themes of colonization, tradition and innovation, cultural and environmental sustainability, and the nature of identity in a fast-changing world. The distinctive artworks include string looping or hand weaving by Cathy Kata; pieces by Tom Deko that incorporate junk metal like car parts and appliances; Michael Mel’s performance art; paintings by Martin Morububuna and lessLIE that combine symbols and abstractions; a mask by Otto Timbin; and wood carvings by Claytus Yambon and John Marston.

Collectively, the work of the Papua artists speaks to the creative energy and vibrant cultural interplay melding the old and new in Papua New Guinea since its independence from Australia in 1975. The last 35 years have been described as “moving from the stone age to the space age in a lifetime.” Contemporary Papua New Guinean artists strive to maintain and promote their cultural heritage while at the same time address the impact of modernization on their people. Like the Salish artists, they work from a rich heritage of aesthetic forms to embrace modern innovations in media, materials, style.


Victoria H. Chang: Nü Shu = Secret Script
Art Beatus
Vancouver, BC – Aug 28-Oct 30, 2009

Nü Shu = Secret Script is a unique exhibit of installation and mixed media works by Vancouver artist Victoria Chang. The artwork is based on Nü shu, a secret written “female language” invented by peasant women centuries ago in Jiangyong County in Hunan province. At the age of seven years, girls began secretly learning nü shu characters from their mothers and grandmothers. It enabled them to communicate amongst themselves after they were married, to express feelings of pain, abuse, suppression and suffering that often lasted the rest of their lives.

Writing in nü shu on the crevices of a folding fan was one of the methods of exchanging messages. The tradition passed from generation to generation within small counties of this remote province of China. The last person who was proficient in this writing system died in 2004 at the age of 98.

Chang’s artwork examines both the visual beauty and metaphorical power of nü shu as a method of blurring the boundaries of Eastern aesthetics with contemporary Western art traditions. Although the language evolved during feudal times, the artist points out that scenarios of suffering during marriage continue to be played out in many women’s lives around the world today.

Victoria Chang earned a BFA in studio art at UBC in 2000 after completing a BSc in Mathematics. In 2004, she completed a Post-Baccalaureate in Studio Art at Brandeis University, Massachusetts, and in 2005 she earned a Master of Fine Arts at Pratt Institute, Brooklyn, New York. Chang’s extensive educational background includes three years training in Chinese calligraphy with Master Liang Shih-Fung and the mastery of Chinese Brush painting in the Southern Impressionist style from the late Master Frank Tam, both in Vancouver, BC.


Oviloo Tunnillie: Meditations on Womanhood
Marion Scott Gallery
Vancouver BC – Sept 27–Nov 2, 2008

Meditations on Womanhood is the first solo exhibition by renowned Cape Dorset artist Oviloo Tunnillie in more than a decade. Her artwork is considered unconventional in the sense that it is highly personal and emotional. She often tackles socially difficult themes: sexual abuse, alcohol addiction, the reality of contemporary life in northern communities, and the universal concerns of women in modern society. In particular, she is one of the few Inuit artists to choose the nude as a subject. At the age of 58, Tunnillie’s compelling work has earned her a place at the forefront of contemporary Canadian art.

Prompted in part by her recent struggles with cancer, Tunnillie created 16 stone sculptures of women for Meditations on Womanhood. The beautiful serpentine works range between 5 and 26 inches. By turns brooding, anguished, stoic and hopeful, the figures convey a world of emotional depth in their simplified forms.

Oviloo Tunnillie began sculpting in the early 1970s. Even while raising six children, she continued to make a living by carving. One of only a handful of women sculptors in Cape Dorset, she worked outdoors under harsh weather conditions most of the year. In recent years, Oviloo moved her family to Toronto and then to Ottawa.

During the 1990s, her figures invited public acclaim for what was perceived as her feminist interpretations. They can be found in many public and private collections of Inuit art, including the National Gallery of Canada, the Canadian Museum of Civilization, the Art Gallery of Ontario and the Winnipeg Art Gallery. Her work has been exhibited in places as diverse as Sweden, Germany and New Mexico.


Bill Henderson: Making Wood Talk
Inuit Gallery of Vancouver
Vancouver BC – June 7-27, 2008

Kwakwaka’wakw artist Bill Henderson began carving in 1957 at only eight years of age. He was one of seventeen children taught by his father, Sam Henderson Senior, an eminent Nak’waxda’xw Master Carver.

Henderson advances the legacy of his family and the cultural traditions of his people by actively working in the arts, visiting schools, teaching others, and hosting tours of his carving shed. He continually invents new masks, plaques, wall panels, canoes, paddles and his infamous totem poles, which range in size from two to forty-two feet tall.

In his first solo exhibit, Making Wood Talk, Henderson demonstrates his mastery of red and yellow cedar. The Inuit Gallery is exhibiting pieces created in his instantly recognizable style, including a transformation mask, a totem pole, a talking stick and many other extraordinary masks. His captivating works are created with traditional tools that he makes himself.

Bill Henderson was initiated into the sacred Hamatsa society in 1983. The Hamatsa or “Cannibal Dancers” induct only the highest-ranking Kwakiutl. Henderson has also been instrumental in reviving the potlatch, a celebration involving displays of family wealth through feasting, dancing, storytelling, and gift-giving – with dancers often wearing masks created by Henderson. As a result, he is considered a vital contributor to the renaissance of the Northwest Coast communities. His artwork is featured in prestigious galleries throughout North America, Japan, France, England and Germany.