Lusa'nala: The Way We Came Into This World
Where: Alcheringa Gallery
When: Oct. 4 to 29
Art lovers will get a chance this month to look at Northwest Coast art from a rarely seen angle.
Erotica - a seldom-emphasized theme in Kwakwaka'wakw art - is at the centre of a new exhibition at Alcheringa Gallery. Seven prominent and emerging artists have created pieces for Lusa'nala: The Way We Came Into This World, opening tonight at 7.
"There's eroticism in our art form and it's never been talked about," said artist and chief Rande Cook, who organized the show with Calvin Hunt, who is also an artist and chief. "It's going to be a very significant show."
Trevor Hunt, William Jr. Was-den, Francis Dick, Mervyn Child and Richard Sumner also created sculptures, paintings and other works in the exhibition. Cook and Hunt asked each artist to take inspiration from art pieces from the band's history for the new works. "The idea was to find something from an old piece in a collection or one of the museums and re-create it," Cook said. "They're drawing from legend."
The results vary widely, said gallery director Elaine Monds. Trevor Hunt took a humorous approach, for example, while Wasden stuck to a more traditional context and Cook went avant-garde.
"It's a very interesting show," Monds said. "I find it very exciting and inspiring to see artists looking beneath the surface."
In particular, one of Cook's three pieces shows the provocative potential of a show that works historical themes into a contemporary context. A reverent figure with a large, hooked nose, "a fool's man," touches a woman's breast in a pastel-coloured painting. Although the rosary hanging from his wrist may make audiences think of residential school abuse, Cook said the woman's body language suggests it's less violent.
"Right away, people think of residential school abuse, with a priest and a young woman," but it could be anything, he said. "There's truth behind it, no matter how you look at it."
Tonight's opening will feature dancing, drumming and singing. Poet laureate Janet Rogers, a Mohawk/Tuscarora from the Ontario-based Six Nations, will also read from her collection of poems called Red Erotic.
Calvin Hunt said the idea of looking at erotic art in the band's tradition has been brewing since the 1970s. It's a theme that ebbed as the church's power grew, making sexual representation taboo.
"There's been a lot written about it," he said, pointing to a line from a 1976 essay by cultural anthropologist Wilson Duff: "Sexual symbolism is so important in the arts of the world and elsewhere that I feel that its virtual absence on the surface of Northwest Coast art permits us to suspect that we might find it in metaphorical forms below the surface."
"There's been a lot of talk about this over the years and it's finally come to fruition," Hunt said. "I think there's a lot more we can do down the road."
He said he's curious to see how audiences respond and expects artists to see creative opportunity.
"I have no idea how the public is going to perceive this - we'll find out [tonight]," he said. "I think there are so many artists out there, dying to try something a little bit different. We're the first artists to do this kind of show - This will be a catalyst for other artists to look at [eroticism] as well."
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