Artist shines light on history

Sometimes it takes a trip to Vancouver to learn something new about where you live

Sometimes it takes a trip to Vancouver to learn something new about where you live.

One of the goals of our recent visit to the big city was to attend a show of historical photos at Presentation House Gallery in North Vancouver.

In addition to collecting art, including many of Charles Collings’ watercolours, Uno Langmann had over the years amassed a remarkable collection of original photographs from British Columbia, and he recently donated all 18,000 of them to the UBC library.

We chose to view many of these prints on the evening he gave a talk about the collection.

In the book that was produced for the show, it was most interesting to read the chapter by Neskonlith artist and curator, Tania Willard, who explained how these images helped to perpetuate the goals of colonialism that included the diminishment of B.C.’s aboriginal peoples. During our brief visit, we also toured the Museum of Anthropology where there is an amazing art exhibit, Unceded Territories, by Coast Salish artist Lawrence Paul Yuxweluptun.  His large paintings combine surrealism with traditional West Coast designs to challenge viewers about the many injustices of colonialism, ongoing environmental destruction, escalating corporate domination and growing importance of First Nation titles and rights.

When I read that the co-author of the book about the exhibit was Tania Willard, I endeavoured to meet her.

Recently I dropped by her studio in Chase to learn more about her work and her background, which has  deep roots in the Shuswap. Her father is related to well-known indigenous activist, William Pierrish and her grandfather was the distinguished elder, Ike Willard, who provided Secwepemc legends for the book Shuswap Stories. Her mother grew up in Scotch Creek on her parents’ Herb and Edith Roane’s ranch.

Tania went to public school in Armstrong and began her undergraduate work at Okanagan College University in Kelowna. After obtaining a degree in fine arts from the University of Victoria, she followed an activist path that began with her work with the Redwire Youth Media Society. For the next seven years she worked with the edgy, activist publication, Red Wire as a designer and editor.

After Tania curated the show entitled Beat Nation: Art, Hip-Hop and Aboriginal Culture for the artist-run grunt gallery that was shown across Canada as well as in the Vancouver Art Gallery, demand for her work soared.

Beat Nation combined traditional Indigenous culture with contemporary music and digital technology to create vibrant, innovative art forms that appeal to young people. When asked for a magazine interview on why aboriginal art has become so relevant and popular, Tania replied, “I would hope that maybe the wider society around us is ready to start looking at ways of unraveling and remaking and remixing the histories of racism and oppression in this country… this huge expanse of distinct indigenous territories.”

Most recently, Tania served as curator-in-residence at the Kamloops Art Gallery where she produced two shows, Unlimited Edition and Custom Made. The catalogue for the first show includes an essay that “explores how indigenous artists negotiated the integration of their prints in the tourist trade, gallery world and art market from the 1940s to the early 2000s.”

The Custom Made show brought together artists who combine traditional craftwork in a contemporary and transformative context.

As we chatted, behind us a large electronic laser machine was busily engraving a portion of Tania’s design into one of many tiles for a public art project that will be installed at Vancouver’s Main and Commercial Skytrain station. This massive project entitled Rule of the Trees, combines indigenous and diverse languages with the growth rings and roots from a slice of a giant old growth tree in two, 18-foot diameter circles and painted steel supports.

In addition to her very demanding schedule producing artwork and curating shows.


Salmon Arm Observer