New book on Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas takes artist and his work to a new level of seriousness

Born and raised on Haida Gwaii and currently residing on Bowen Island, the contemporary artist Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas says it feels a bit odd to have someone else’s voice describing his work, but the title “pretty much nails it.” The Seriousness of Play, was written by Professor Nicola Levell, published in the UK and is now available on Bowen Island at Pheonix Books.

Yahgulanaas, says that having a book written about his work that puts it into contemporary and historical context marks a watershed in his practice.

“What the author’s thesis is, well that is best left up to her to explain, but what I enjoy about it is that with similar works, looking at artists like Bill Reid for example, it is common for it to be filtered through the ethnic lense. Levell, well she says the ethnic lense is inadequate to describe my work.”

Yahgulanaas points to the acquisition of his work by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City as another confirmation of this.

“How does this impact the work that I do? The audience changes.”

He adds that the title accurately reflects his work in that it is playful in line and colour, but it also talks about the intersection between cultures.

“It is not a trifling matter, whether we’re talking about the Middle East or Canada trying to decolonize itself. It’s not just about social impacts but also about economic impacts. But still we are emotional creatures, we like to laugh and play and smile and we haven’t necessarily made room enough for that, especially here in Canada.”

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