Unceded Territories is an upcoming exhibit at the Museum of Anthropology (MOA) by Vancouver-based Coast Salish artist, Lawrence Paul Yuxweluptun. The exhibition features over 60 paintings, drawings, sculptures, and installations spanning his 30-year career.
Yuxweluptun’s art is political. When speaking with him about the exhibit, he begins by discussing the contemporary struggles of First Nations peoples and the historical injustices of colonialism in Canada. “Natives are always going to be fighting for human rights, and I have a different approach to it,” he says.
His work covers life on First Nations reserves, land claims, pipelines, and the environmental scars of industrial resource extraction. He combines elements of Haida and Kwakwaka’wakw design with modernism in order to depict the complex realities that he sees around him—“traditionalism partly had to be set aside,” he says. Although Yuxweluptun’s work addresses serious political themes, he incorporates humour. The relationship between traditional First Nations culture and contemporary reality is playfully examined in Yuxweluptun’s Haida Hotdog (1984), a painting of a sausage adorned with a traditional Haida motif resting inside a hot dog bun.
A number of Yuxweluptun’s large and vividly colourful paintings will be on display at the MOA, including the surrealism-inspired Red Man Watching White Man Trying to Fix Hole in the Sky (1990), as well as his bold and abstract Caution! You Are Now Entering a Free State of Mind Zone (2000).
One of Yuxweluptun’s most striking installations, An Indian Shooting the Indian Act (1999), is included in the MOA exhibition, along with video documentation of its accompanying performance piece (An Indian Shooting the Indian Act, 1997). Yuxweluptun explains that traditional art forms can be limiting when trying to express current realities faced by First Nations peoples, so he chose a more tactile and literal approach to this piece. “I went out and shot [a copy of the Indian Act] with a shot gun in Northern England,” he says.
“People say that I’m a political activist, but this is what I have to deal with every day in my life. I’m just like any other Native person,” says Yuxweluptun. “All Native people are the protectors of the land… I’ve always been a part of the collective, and this show is for all Indigenous people of the world.”
Curated by Karen Duffek and Tania Willard, Unceded Territories is a hard-hitting and provocative exhibit that is intended to spark dialogue. “I think that Native people would like to see this show,” says Yuxweluptun, “and I hope they do come and see it. I think Canadians will come to understand me better or Native people better. I think it’s an important show of our time of history.”
Unceded Territories will be on display at the Museum of Anthropology (6393 NW Marine Drive) in Vancouver until October 16, 2016. moa.ubc.ca