Record (Re)create: Contemporary Coast Salish Art from the Salish Weave Collection

Organized and circulated by the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria
Curated by Toby Lawrence

Record, (Re)create: Contemporary Coast Salish Art from the Salish Weave Collection showcases a selection of works by artists of Coast Salish ancestry from the Salish Weave Collection, a private art collection held in British Columbia. The fourteen artists featured in this exhibition are frequently unified as Coast Salish; however, they are representatives of a number of distinct First Nations that span the southern coast of British Columbia, and extend into Washington and Oregon. The common term “Coast Salish” is in fact a designation initiated by anthropologists and linguists to refer to a widely distributed group of coastal Indigenous North American peoples with related languages, social and material commonalities, and interconnecting histories.

The focus of Record, (Re)create is the artists – representing multiple generations and multiple voices. As examples of a diverse range of traditional and contemporary media and techniques, the works in this exhibition effectively negotiate the interrelationality of the traditional and the contemporary, to record history, to recreate form, and to create new works that simultaneously uphold the relevance of history and communicate the importance of change in the contemporary world.

Recent exhibitions held at Canadian art institutions such as Ebb & Flow: Rande Cooke + Sonny Assu (Nanaimo Art Gallery, 2012), Beat Nation: Art, Hip Hop & Aboriginal Culture (Vancouver Art Gallery, 2012), Close Encounters: The Next 500 Years (Winnipeg, various locations, 2011), Man Turned To Stone: T’xwelatse (The Reach, 2011), and Urban Thunderbirds | Ravens in a Material World (Art Gallery of Greater Victoria, 2013) demonstrate the role of the exhibition space as one that is crucial in engaging with the general population on issues of colonization – and decolonization. Additionally, this public space plays an important role in providing opportunities to establish connections between Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities.

Confronting false suppositions and honouring the processes of cultural transmission, the works in Record, (Re)create are indicative of the ability of artistic practice to address not only the visual and the historical, but also the important and controversial issues of everyday realities by providing alternative spaces of engagement for new and continued dialogue.

Understanding Contemporary Practices

Northwest Coast Indigenous arts are seen in abundance throughout the traditional territories of the Coast Salish Nations. Produced in a wide variety of media by artists often creating pieces both for their communities and for the art market, these works find their place on city streets and in public buildings, museums, airports, and private homes. Such works, however, accompany questions of shifting values attributed to objects or imagery through commercial circulation. In an excerpt from his catalogue essay, artist lessLIE articulates,

the commercial market for contemporary Northwest Coast art is a double-edged sword. On one hand, such a commercial market does produce cultural, economic, and financial benefits for First Nations artists and communities. Through this commercial market, a cultural bridge of understanding is built between First Nations artists and collectors and patrons of their work. While creating this cultural bridge of understanding, the art traditions of such artists are allowed to be refined even more … Also, while partaking in the commercial market for contemporary Northwest Coast art, artists are able to assert their identity … Despite these culturally beneficial aspects … such a commercial market still does in some instances reinforce a hegemonic and neo-colonial relationship between First Nations and Canada.

While the proliferation of Northwest Coast Indigenous art continues to affirm uninterrupted Indigenous presence, these works are created with deliberate limitations on content and on the amount of knowledge shared with non-Indigenous viewers.

Further, the aesthetics of commercialization and art world success in relation to Indigenous art are also met with similar concerns. With emphasis on the ‘nowness’ of the artists represented in the Salish Weave Collection, their critical voices are mobilized through visual forms that reassert identity, engage with innovation, honour ancestral connections, and uphold traditional Indigenous knowledge and lifeways. The works deal similarly with issues of representation, and further illuminate continued struggles in regards to land claims and Indigenous/non-Indigenous relations.