Modern attitudes mixed with ancestral beliefs will be blended into a new exhibition at the ACT by a group of First Nations artists.
The exhibition will feature the contemporary work of artists Sonny Assu, Corey Moraes, Carrielynn Victor and Brandon Gabriel.
The show will combine comic-book characters, super heroes, mythical beings and graffiti-inspired narratives of personal and ancestral storytelling.
Gabriel, from the Kwantlen First Nation, will have two large paintings of graffiti art on display in the show.
He is known for his traditional Coast Salish artwork of drums and carvings, but has been working on this art-form over the last year.
“I wanted to try my hand at graffiti, in part, because graffiti is this really kind of a cool exciting art-form, where the whole premise is about reclaiming space,” explained the artist.
“[Indigenous people] have to reclaim our spaces in order for us to be seen and heard. So, graffiti made a lot of sense because it involves linguistics. It’s a vessel for a lot of information,” said Gabriel.
The canvas piece is called Protecting Our Sacred Land and is a reflection of a canoe journey the artist took in 2014 from the Fraser River out to the Pacific Ocean and all the way to Prince Rupert.
The 1,300-km journey was done to raise awareness by Gabriel of the threat of oil pipelines along the coast.
“At that time, the Enbridge Pipeline was an imminent threat to indigenous communities along the coast who relied heavily on the ocean fishery to sustain their needs,” said Gabriel.
After his journey he did some slide presentations but felt he wanted to do something more creative to commemorate that time of his life.
“A lot of lessons learned I think internally, from a spiritual perspective from the physical perspective, like using my body to travel that length of travel by canoe,” said Gabriel.
“I learned a lot of limitations about myself and what I am able to do. But I think one of the biggest things that I walked away from that journey with was a lot of resolve about my convictions.
Some government policies exploit resources and lack protection for waterways, he added.
Protecting Our Sacred Land is a colourful depiction of a sunrise and sunset with a body of water, a canoe and a figure emerging from under the water. Words in the piece say “Rise Up and Stand up.” There is word across the whole banner in Gabriel’s native language.
“I wanted to use some sort of symbolic way of restoring our endangered language into the art work, too,” explained Gabriel.
He also interspersed his journal entries from his 2014 trip into the work. They were introspective thoughts about the journey and documents of the events he witnesse,d like seeing whales off the side of his canoe.
“Those were some really fantastic things I got to witness on that journey that are really etched into my heart and I am not going to forget that,” he said.
The second piece is a work in progress and it is called The Legacy of Qeyqeyt.
Qeyqeyt is an ancient village shared by the Kwantlen, Katzie and Musqueam people that is located in present day north Surrey, where the Pattullo Bridge touches down on the south side of the river.
But in the early days of colonization, they were forcefully removed from the village by CN Rail.
“CN Rail has never given any restitution or acknowledged the violent upheaval that they caused on my community and this was back in the 1930s,” said Gabriel, who contacted the Aboriginal Relations officer for CN Rail in British Columbia about his art project.
“They were wanting to do some work in that regards to reconciliation with indigenous communities. It’s a work in progress for something I’m hoping will result in some actual restorative justice work with regards to things like this,” Gabriel said.
On the left hand side of the first panel is a painting based on a photograph of a Kwantlen elder who passed away in 2014 at the age of 100.
The second panel doesn’t have any art work on it yet. It’s just the blueprint, the schematic drawing of a train-cart.
”I’ll likely bring it to the show, but I don’t think there’s going to be time for me to have any artwork on it, but it kind of shows my process,” said Gabriel, who wants to use his art as a vehicle of bringing justice to a historic wrong.