First Nations art of British Columbia is among the most vivid and distinctive artwork in North America. It is rich in tradition and continually evolving in response to cultural circumstances and thus facilitates the emergence of new tools, techniques, and materials, as well as the reinterpretation of traditional practices. It flourishes as an integral part of Indigenous cultures who live today, as they have for thousands of years, surrounded by old growth forests, mountains, oceans, islands, and an abundance of animal and sea life.
This exhibition includes the artwork of established, mid-career, and emerging Northwest Coast First Nations artists who have a deep respect for traditional practice yet are keenly aware of their relationship to history and their place in contemporary First Nations culture. This exhibition showcases the artists’ unique interpretations, technical excellence, and mastery of materials, and explores both traditional artwork and the social, cultural, and political activism of contemporary Northwest Coast art and design.
These cultures create exquisitely carved objects, intricately woven materials, and beautifully painted surfaces. Totem poles, masks, rattles, bentwood boxes, bowls, spoons, and canoes are carved from cedar and other trees; baskets, blankets, and clothing are woven from bark, roots, and animal hair; drums are created from elk and deer hide; and paintings, drawings, prints, and intricate designs are crafted using pigments and dyes.
An overarching system of design principles underlays the creation of their artwork. The system includes a visual language of its own, one comprised of specific elements such as formline, ovoids, “U” shapes, “split U”s, and “S” shapes. It also includes a collective understanding of certain characteristics of animals, sea life, and supernatural beings. The artists use this shared “language” to guide them in the creation of art while, at the same time, producing endless variations in their designs.
Indigenous peoples of the northwest coast live in different regions and form distinct cultural groups. Each of the groups established separate communities and developed their own customs, stories, and legends. For countless generations they traded with each other, sometimes intermarried, at other times went to war. They also cultivated their own artistic styles, but the overarching design system that is central to Northwest Coast Indigenous art remains intact.
This exhibition is made possible by: Canada Council for the Arts, Denbigh Fine Arts Services, Vancouver
The EWC Arts Program is supported in part by Aqua-Aston Hospitality, The Hawai'i Pacific Rim Society Hideo Murakami Fund for the Arts, Friends of Hawai'i Charities, Barbara B. Smith, Richard H. Cox, Jean E. Rolles, EWC Arts Ohana members, Jackie Chan Foundation USA, The Arthur Goodfriend Intercultural Fund, and other generous donors.
Thursday, 12 December, 2019
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