Organized by: the Kamloops Art Gallery. Curated by Annette Hurtig
Financial support for this exhibition through The Canada Council for the Arts
Kamloops sponsor: British Columbia Lottery Corporation.
Jerry Pethick began making art in the late 1950s. His early artwork was sculptural, and he is often still referred to as a sculptor. But Pethick's interests and pursuits extend well beyond the confines of any single category or discipline. From the beginning he has pursued several related avenues of research, investigating optical physics, for example, and theories of visual perception. As well as making art he has contributed to the development of, and knowledge about, visual imaging technologies. Indeed, Jerry Pethick's scientific and epistemological inquiries are inseparable from his artistic activities.
The artist's interest in sculptural space, for instance, has involved investigations of dimensional imaging systems. He participated in the advent of holographic laser systems in the late 1960s, and concurrently experimented with integral photography and replication of the visual capacities of a fly's multi-lensed eye. The latter two projects are evident in his artwork throughout the past three decades. More recently, in the 1990s, he has employed real time video and digital imaging techniques. Jerry Pethick explores, develops and uses these innovative imaging systems to critique conventional visuality and propose alternate modes of visual perception and representation. Having pursued such interests and exhibited nationally and internationally since the 1960s, in 1998 he was awarded the Claudia De Hueck Fellowship in Art and Science at the National Gallery of Canada.
In addition to his sculptural work and visual imaging research, the artist has maintained a little known drawing practice that likewise is related to his interests in dimensionality and visuality. Rarely conventional line renderings or formal essays, Jerry Pethick's drawings include two- and three-dimensional pieces, and those that are executed in unusual (often light reflective) materials. Using the act of drawing to explore alternative visual modes, Pethick's drawing plays with questions of perception and spatial categories. Usually executed in series, and in intense bursts that signal experimental moments, these works constitute a sort of periodic vein, a fragmentary but recurring trail which is evidence of the course of the pursuits that impel his artistic production. Brought together in the Drawing/room exhibition, they amount to an illuminating trace of the artist's theoretical and technological investigations.
Jerry Pethick's innovations in aesthetics and visual imaging systems are important because they effect paradigm shifts that disrupt the visual status quo. Avoiding recourse to spectacle by using materials that are at hand, recycled, or readily and inexpensively available, Jerry Pethick intentionally maintains a modest economy of production. His work acknowledges and responds to, but also critiques, the spectacular and spectral world of commodity culture and consumerism. Favouring an enlivened, unmediated visual and cognitive experience that privileges and at the same time challenges the embodied viewer, Jerry Pethick makes art that provides (an unusual) visceral pleasure derived from visual effects that invite meandering, non-linear perception. Rather than relying on polemics or directives, the potential meaning of his work operates through an explosive mindfield of slyly humourous visual enigmas.
While its appearance diverges from the crisp high resolution imagery of advertising and of art's currently dominant forms, his work nonetheless engages in current cultural discourses by suggesting that there is value in alternative approaches to, and insights into, today's urgent questions. At once transparent and opaque in meaning, playing at the intersection of minimized image resolution and recognition, Pethick's work invites reverie and speculation.
Intrigued by paradox, dismayed by mindless faith in governance, scientific expertise or the purported absolute benefits of technology, Jerry Pethick pursues a maverick's singular path. He prefers processes that are meandering and playful. These characteristics and his interest in strategies for greater freedom-freedom to see, think and be, freedom to play and experience-have shaped the Drawing/room project.
Adopting the artist's expanded notion of drawing, the Drawing/room project establishes an overview of Jerry Pethick's work by following his use of drawing as an exploratory mode. It also reviews his explorations of integral photography and other dimensional imaging systems. And it shows how this artist's work responds to the particulars of each stopping place in his travels, such as the local availability of materials and other resources.
The project includes several components, and a lot of collaboration. Jerry Pethick conceived of the project and began formulating it in the early 1990s. He and I began working together to realize it in 1995. In 1996 Kamloops Art Gallery agreed to be the organizing venue, to find funding for the project and tour the exhibition. In 1998, collaborating with the late Peter Van Riper, the artist produced a digital poetic archive, the CD-ROM Marking Time. A booklet, cards and signage designed by Jack Scrivener accompany the CD-ROM and the exhibition. The Drawing/room booklet contains an essay by guest writer Peter Culley. Each of the individuals mentioned above has known the artist for many years; our contributions to the project come out of extended engagement with him and his work.
The exhibition itself includes works and studies that span more than thirty years of production. They are autonomous art works; however, in the context of this exhibition they become elements of a new work, namely the Drawing/room exhibition, which is, in fact, an artist's project. A projection from Marking Time provides a focal element within the exhibition. Marking Time contains images documenting the artist's places of residence, studios and exhibitions, and hundreds of works. These, in turn, delineate Jerry Pethick's research arenas and his investigative avenues, and they suggest relationships between these things and his artistic production. The CD-ROM returns repeatedly to a map of sorts, a visual autobiography. Each of the project's elements--including the CD-ROM Marking Time, the booklet, and the exhibition--are shaped by the artist's visual poetics.
This exhibition is accompanied by the CD-ROM Marking Time, an artist's work by Jerry Pethick, and a booklet with an essay by Peter Culley and an introduction by Annette Hurtig. Both are available either singly or as a combination pack in the Gallery Store.
Organized for tour by Presentation House Gallery (North Vancouver)
Indian Princesses and Cowgirls: Stereotypes from the Frontier is a unique and important exhibition first developed by the Oboro Gallery in Montreal. Co-curators Gail Guthrie Valaskakis and Marilyn Burgess have assembled a vast selection of images of Indian princesses and cowgirls taken from their own collections. The show features over two hundred antique prints, such as postcards, calendars, and sheet music covers, as well as historical black and white photographs taken at Canada's earliest rodeos. These are grouped together by stylistic convention to reveal a number of key stereotypes about race and femininity which became dominant early this century.
It challenges the ethnocentrism of the frontier and takes an original, feminist and native view at how race and gender are produced in popular culture.
The Indian princesses who grace the calendars and postcards of the post World War I era embody mystery and exoticism and are usually scantily clad in red fringed tunics and wearing a feather over two long braids of hair. The princesses are set in romanticized backdrops, moonlit lakes, beautiful waterfalls and breathtaking mountains, silently enjoying the picturesque wilderness. They are also, almost without exception, white skinned with Caucasian features. By contrast, the earliest photographs of rodeo and wild west show "cowgirls" feature butch women wearing pants and performing dangerous stunts on horseback, enacting the fantasy originally attributed to the Native huntress and warrior as she was imagined in the nineteenth century.
The cultural identity and struggle of First Nations people are simultaneously rooted in representation and appropriation. Native people, for the most part, have not been able to determine how they have been represented in popular culture since 1492. From the cannibalistic savages of the early explorers' reports, to the monosyllabic mutterings in Cowboy and Indian movies, to Disney's ridiculously distorted and romanticized Pocahontas, these images not only fit but also perpetuate the many misinformed stereotypes that exist of Native people.
Indian Princesses and Cowgirls: Stereotypes from the Frontier also features a video component, directed by Lorraine Norrgard, entitled Indian Princess Demystified. For more than a century American Indian women have been portrayed on postcards, lithographs, and drawings as demure princesses. Stereotypically, these postcard princesses have been non-Indian models posed in wigs and artificial costumes. The lives of Pocahontas and Sacajawea, important figures in American history, have been reduced to plastic characters of myth, legend and lore, yet their real lives would be far more interesting. Dr Gail Guthrie Valaskakis, a woman of Lac de Flambeau Ojibwe heritage, shares her fascinating antique postcard collection of Indian princesses and her poignant insights about the effects of these stereotypes on American Indian women.
This exhibition is organized and circulated by Presentation House Gallery and funded in part by the Dissemination Assistance for Art Museums and Public Galleries Program of the Canada Council.
Organized by: the Charles H. Scott Gallery at Emily Car Institute of Art & Design with the support of the Canada Council for the Arts and Lignum Forest Products.
This exhibition contains a comprehensive overview of the work of Peter Cardew, one of Canada's most celebrated architects. Guest curator Elizabeth Shotton says, "Cardew is an increasingly influential architect in Canada whose work has significantly contributed to the development of architecture on the west coast. The work evokes that spirit of modernism by exploring issues beyond the merely functional, and challenging our preconceptions about the essential issues involved in the building."
Cardew was trained in England at Kingston College of Art and immigrated to Canada in 1966 joining the Vancouver firm of Rhone Iredale. In 1980, he set up his own practice and has earned both national and international recognition for his work in the years that followed. Cardew is one of Canada's most honoured architects winning more than 24 awards including the Governor General's Medals, Canadian Architect Award of Excellence, Lieutenant Governor's Medals, and Progressive Architecture Awards, to name just a few.
This exhibition presents a selection of Cardew's most significant projects spanning a twenty year period from 1976 to the present, which not only documents the range of his work, but also provokes thoughtful consideration of architecture in general. The exhibition consists of a series of drawings, models and photographs of critical projects: CN Pavilion (Expo 86, Vancouver, BC), False Creek Housing (Vancouver, BC), Lignum Offices and Forestry Centre (Williams Lake, BC), Stone Band School (Stone Indian Reserve No.1, BC), Lach Klan School Industrial Arts Shop, (Kitkatla, Dolphin Island, BC), OÕSullivan-Donaldson House (Lions Bay, BC), Morris and Helen Belkin Art Gallery (University of British Columbia, Vancouver BC), and Odlum Live Work Studios (Vancouver, BC).
The title of this project, Ordinary Buildings, refers to the shift away from the importance and relevance of monumental architecture to common buildings, such as schools, office buildings and stores. In past centuries, it was common for cities to build immense and elaborate buildings meant to impress not only its citizens but everyone else. These buildings were thought to be a reflection of the ruler's wealth, power and status. Today, this practice is no longer necessary as the public has alternate means of determining these attributes.
Peter Cardew is inspired by modernist and functionalist theories of architecture, which involve various layers of philosophy. His work considers our relationship to the built environment, function, and materiality.
1st Prize: Grade 5/6 South Sahali, Niki Eadie's class
A complementary project to Peter Cardew: Ordinary Buildings, this exhibition looks at the evolution of the Kamloops Civic Building which includes the Kamloops Art Gallery along with the main branch of the Thompson Nicola Regional District Library and offices for the regional government. Through photographs, drawings and models, Kamloops Art Gallery Director Jann L.M. Bailey reflects on the design and building process.
2nd Prize: Errol Vogt, Westmount Elementary, Grade 6
In conjunction with this exhibition, models of the new Civic Building made by students from around the district are displayed. The Kamloops Art Gallery Capital Campaign Committee sponsored the contest Art and Architecture during the campaign. The contest was open to elementary school children who were asked to create a model of the new (unfinished) building. In all, the Gallery received 25 entries. The enthusiasm of the students was overwhelming, as was the support of the schools.
A collaborative project between the Kamloops Art Gallery and the Macdonald Stewart Art Centre, Guelph, Ontario. Financial support for this exhibition through The Canada Council for the Arts
Over the past decade, Carl Skelton has developed a compelling body of work wrapped in an evolvingand always fascinatingpersonal mythology. Potential relationships between the natural world and technology have been a constant for the artist, connecting equally to a Canadian wildlife tradition and a contemporary fascination with emerging technologies and genetic mutations. Skelton also critically addresses the space of art, exploring a broad range of possibilities for presentation in and beyond the traditional gallery environment.
Carl Skelton: Out Here represents the continuation of the Kamloops Art Gallerys strong contemporary programme and commitment to Canadian art. Out Here was initiated by Andrew Hunter while he was curator of the Kamloops Art Gallery.
Carl Skeltons exhibition consists of a surreal, sci-fi installation of sculptures and creatures. Working with reconfigured taxidermy forms and fabricated creatures that appear as new life forms combining natural and technological components, Skeltons project turns the gallery into a theatrical environment with closer affinities to the X-Files than traditional museum display. Out Here suggests the creepy, tackiness of the wax museum or circus freak show, investing the gallery space with a kind of mystery and horror the artist associates with the stuffed animals and dioramas of the museums he encountered as a child.
The publication which accompanies the exhibition features essays by Judith Nasby (Director of the Macdonald Stewart Art Centre) and Pamela Meredith (Director, Cold City Gallery), along with a short story by Andrew Hunter (Artistic Director, St. Norbert Arts and Cultural Centre). In addition, Lisa Gabrielle Marks article Performing Art which was previously published in C international contemporary art (issue 56, November 97January 98) has been included at the request of the artist and with the permission of the publisher. The texts by Nasby and Meredith give us a composite image of Skeltons work. Each writer describes a personal encounter with the work and considers it in relation to their respective organizations. Judith Nasby provides a fascinating link to the Macdonald Stewart Art Centres extensive Inuit collection and the importance of the permanent placement of Skelton's Canadiana Begging Bear outside the Centre. Pamela Meredith positions Skeltons work within a history of installation art and provides a humorous account of working within Out Here. Lisa Gabrielle Marks text is, in her own words, about how we might find truth in lies and lies in truth.
Andrew Hunter has known Carl Skelton for some time and his short story, Carl, has evolved over several years and many discussions with the artist. After reading the text, I commented to Hunter that it was a little out there. He took this as a compliment. Hunter continues to push the boundaries of writing about art, and Skelton may be his most appropriate subject to date.
Carl Skelton is a Canadian artist presently working and living in Brooklyn, New York. He studied in the Arts Plastiques program at the UniversitÄ de Strasbourg, France, has his BFA from Queens University and MFA from the University of Alberta. Over the past decade Skelton has been included in a number of exhibitions at the Walter Phillips Gallery, The Power Plant, Cold City Gallery, Mercer Union, Latitude 53, Open Studio, and The Red Head Gallery, to name a few. His work is included in several collections including that of the Kamloops Art Gallery. -- Jann L.M. Bailey
Curator's Talk and Tour: Andrew Hunter on the exhibition
Carl Skelton: Out Here
Sunday April 18 at 1:30 pm
Curated by; Roger H. Boulet
Organized by: the Art Gallery of the South Okanagan
Curator Roger Boulet looks at the recent work of senior Canadian artist Joseph Plaskett bringing together large format pastel works which depict the landscape and Plaskett's private world in Paris, France, and Suffolk, England. The exhibition presents an important figure in post-war art in British Columbia reflecting on his life and his considerable talents as a draughtsman.
The name of Joe Plaskett is well known to art lovers in British Columbia. Born in New Westminster, Plaskett has lived in Paris since the 1950s, but he often returns to Canada, visiting his many friends in the Vancouver area, in the Okanagan Valley and in such communities as Williams Lake. He has exhibited his work throughout Canada and it can be found in the permanent collections of major art museums in the country. A fully illustrated exhibition publication accompanies the exhibition.
The current exhibition of Plaskett's recent pastels at the Kamloops Art Gallery will surprise and delight everyone. These are very large pastels made up of multiple sheets. In one instance, 30 sheets of pastel paper were used to make one large work, which is more than 12 feet high. This novel use of the pastel medium was 'discovered' by Plaskett in 1983 when he was sketching with his long-time friend Jim Willer on Queen Charlotte Island. Near Chatl, they came upon a totem pole in the midst of a cedar forest. While Willer included the entire pole in a sketch, Plaskett concentrated on the base of the pole.
For some reason, he decided to go on to the next higher portion of the pole after which he completed the top; each extension required another sheet of pastel paper. This upward triptych was marred only by the fact that Plaskett had an inadequate supply of the light grey paper with which the exercise had begun. The sketch was filed away, but the experience was not entirely forgotten. Five years later, in Osoyoos, a similar experience occurred. This time a strong wind prevented the 'plein air' sketch he intended and he found himself sketching the view as bordered by two verandah posts, after which he did the view between the next two posts. It became clear to him that the pastel medium, his preferred medium for quick sketches and studies, could be used for ambitious, finished works as well. This discovery was coincidental with his decision not to exhibit at commercial galleries for awhile so that he could concentrate on the development of this new work, uninfluenced by immediate commercial considerations.
Back in Paris, which has been home to Plaskett since 1957, he turned his attentions once again to his rooms at 2, rue Pecquay. To the Paris interiors were added Suffolk interiors. (Plaskett spends his summers there in a house he inherited in 1973). Some landscapes or townscapes have also been made with this multi-sheet process, and the result is the series of extraordinary pastels on exhibition at the Kamloops Art Gallery.
Curator's Talk and Tour
Roger Boulet on the exhibition Joseph Plaskett: Reflections and Shadows
Saturday, March 13, at 1:30 pm
Curated by: Marianne Ignace and Sarah Jules
Organized by: the Kamloops Art Gallery with Secwepemc Cultural Education Society and Simon Fraser University
This exhibition marks the tenth anniversary of the enormously successful partnership in Aboriginal post-secondary education and research between the Secwepemc Cultural Education Society, located on the Kamloops Indian Reserve, and Simon Fraser University. The project features photographs by faculty, former and present students and political leaders involved with the program. They document the way in which contemporary Secwepemc (Shuswap) people live their cultural traditions as part of an ancient and continuing way of life. The exhibit also gives a glimpse of the history of the photography of Secwepemc people by showing how early ethnographers tried to capture on film what they believed to be a vanishing culture. Several photographs document the oppressive era of the residential schools. Others show how Secwepemc people, since early in this century, have posed for their own photographs and photographed one another during their daily activities.
The project represents the continuation of the Kamloops Art Gallerys significant commitment to the culture of the Secwepemc and builds on such previous exhibitions as A Legacy of Survival: Contemporary Arts of the Shuswap (1993) and Making an Impression: Contemporary Moccasins of the Shuswap (1997).
For some time, the Secwepemc—one of the Salish-speaking Aboriginal nations of the Interior Plateau—were dismissed by ethnographers as having little in the way of authentic culture; instead, their culture was seen as the intersection of Northwest Coast and Plains cultures, and a paler version of both. More recent ethnographic research has validated what Secwepemc oral traditions have stated all along, that Plateau culture in its distinctiveness and uniqueness is one of the ancient cultural traditions of North America. Different from Northwest Coast culture with its prominent visual art, and different from Plains culture with its public ceremonies, Plateau culture is subtle and private, much of it expressed in verbal art and knowledge inseparable from its language, Secwepemctsin, which is much older than the English language.
The Secwepemc—anglicized to Shuswap by Europeans who had difficulty pronouncing and writing Salish sounds—have lived in the Plateau of south central interior British Columbia for several thousand years, perhaps since the time when glaciers retreated after the last ice-age, and came to occupy a vast territory of 180,000 square kilometers stretching from north of Williams Lake east to Jasper, to southeastern British Columbia, the Arrow Lakes and north of Okanagan Lake across to Ashcroft and west of the Fraser River. According to Secwepemc oral traditions, Old One, the Creator, in a remote and distant age, brought order to the land and introduced many of the plant and animal species to it, modifying it so it would be hospitable to humans. Old One sent Coyote (Skelep) the Trickster to Earth to finish his work, and Skelep left the marks of his work, still visible, throughout Secwepemc territory.
The homeland of the Secwepemc, thus put into shape by Skelep, is an ecologically diverse one, ranging from the rivers and river valleys, rolling grasslands and forested plateaus, wet rainforests of the Columbia, to the sub-alpine meadows and snowy peaks at the edges of the territory. For thousands of years, Secwepemc people have traveled the land during their annual seasonal round, hunting, gathering vast amounts of root plants and berries in plots that were tended like gardens, gathering many other plant crops for food, medicine and to manufacture most items they needed. Several thousand years ago, as the Fraser and Thompson River system stabilized and as salmon runs became established, salmon fishing with weirs, nets and harpoons became a major focus of subsistence.
Before Europeans arrived in the Interior during the early 1800s, perhaps as many as 20,000 or more Secwepemc lived in their territory, centered around thirty communities and within seven geographic divisions. Epidemics brought by Europeans during the nineteenth century caused a population loss of nearly 90% by 1900. Catholic missionaries began their work among the Secwepemc during the 1860s. In the 1870s, the federal government put people on reserves comprising only about 1% of the territory without treaties or consent, something which Secwepemc people have protested and tried to address ever since. The oppressive era of the late nineteenth century lasted well past the 1950s: the Indian Act forbade peoples cultural, spiritual, and economic self-expression and self-reliance, and the residential schools literally beat Aboriginal culture and language out of successive generations of Secwepemc children.
Nowadays, seventeen Secwepemc communities remain: Soda Creek (Xatsull), Williams Lake (Texelc), Alkali Lake (Esket), Dog Creek/Canoe Creek (Xgettem), Canim Lake (Tsqescen), High Bar (Llenlleneyten), Clinton/Whispering Pines (Pelltiqt), Pavilion (Tskweylecw), Bonaparte (Stuxtews), Skeetchestn, Kamloops (Tkemlups), North Thompson (Simpcw), Adams Lake (Sxtelen), Neskonlith (Skatsin), Little Shuswap (Qw7ewt), Spallumcheen (Splatsin), Shuswap Band (Kenpesqt). While Secwepemc people have adapted increasingly successfully to modern economies, the connection to the land, and harvesting the resources following the traditions taught by generations of the past, are continuing. Ways of socializing, celebrating, and maintaining spiritual union with nature, the Creator, and one another are continuing and, after decades of oppression, have been revived. The photographs in this exhibition, organized around the themes of ancient seasonal rounds, the knowledge of elders, and continuing practices rooted in the knowledge of the past and the association with Secwepemculecw, Shuswap land, celebrate Secwepemc culture, now and then.
Some further readings on Ssecwepemc people and culture
James Teit, 1909. The Shuswap. Memoir of the American Museum of Natural History 4(7), Publication of the Jesup North Pacific Expedition 2(7). New York and Leiden.
Heather Siska Smith, 1989. We are the Shuswap. Secwepemc Cultural Education Society, Kamloops
Marianne Ignace, 1998. The Shuswap (Secwepemc). In: Handbook of North American Indians, Vol. 12: The Plateau. Smithsonian Institution, Washington D.C.
Curator's Talk and Tour
Marianne Ignace on the exhibition Re tsúwets re Secwepemc: The Things We Do
Saturday March 27 at 2:00 pm
A touring exhibition of the Vancouver Art Gallery
by Ian M. Thom, Senior Curator. Vancouver Art Gallery tour sponsor: Placer Dome Inc./Placer Dome North America
Kamloops sponsors: British Columbia Lottery Corporation; CFJC-TV 7
A Skidegate Beaver Pole, 1941
oil on canvas
Collection of Vancouver Art Gallery, 42.3.38
Photograph: Trevor Mills
Emily Carr: Art & Process is the first major exhibition of the work of one of Canadas most significant modern painters to travel to Kamloops. Comprised of 25 paintings and preparatory works, this exhibition provides a fascinating look into Carrs creative process. Drawing primarily from the collection of the Vancouver Art Gallery, Emily Carr: Art & Process features a number of important Carr paintings including Totem Poles, Kitseukla (1912), Beaver Pole, Skidegate (1928), Zunoqua of the Cat Village (1931), and Above the Gravel Pit (1936-37).
According to curator Ian M.Thom, Carrs early training stressed direct observation of the subject, the utility of a study before attempting a final version in oil, and an emphasis on the idea of sketching. Carr, throughout her later career, worked with the conviction that she should directly observe, gather the necessary visual notes and then translate this visual information into a final, more formalized, product. Thom explores the relationships between Carrs subject matter, her preparatory studies and finished paintings, addressing the primary working methods the artist employed after her return from France in 1911 until her death in 1945. What emerges is an image of an artist always challenging herself to paint better and convey an authentic experience of the world around her. Carr was not a documenter of the world; she was an interpreter of experience through paint. Thom opens a window into Carrs world, highlighting the artists inventiveness and expressive power.
The trouble with our paintings lies largely with our trying to impose our ideas and our technique on the picture instead of allowing our subject to impose itself on us, asserting ourselves instead of making ourselves a blank and letting the subject express on that blank that which it will. When you are out in nature she works for you. In the studio your imagination steps in, your sense of design, what you want. That is why the first sketch done on the spot smacks of something bigger and more vital than the fixed-up product of the studio. In the one we dominate, in the other nature does. If the spirit has climbed up honestly from solid fact to solid fact, good. If she has floated idly without experiencing, bad. (Emily Carr, journal entry for Good Friday, April 1936. The emphasis is Carr's)
This exhibition is accompanied by a full-colour brochure with an essay by the curatoravailable in the Gallery Store.
Curator's Lecture: Ian M. Thom
Saturday, January 10th at 2:00 pm.
Melanie Rays: A Song of Small
Saturday, November 28th at 8:00 pm
Curated by: Andrew Hunter
David Neel: Living Traditions represents the first time this contemporary Kwakiutl artist's two main avenues of pursuit, photography and mask carving, have been considered together. While one reason for the combined presentation was a desire to exhibit a more comprehensive view of the artist's work, there was a more significant reason behind the combination. Technically (and on the surface conceptually) Neel's photography and carving may appear to be divergent paths. Curator Andrew Hunter argues, however, that they are not, that what defines Neel's photographic practice is the same underlying tendency that informs his mask making—a drive to explore and articulate the place of First Peoples' culture in a multi-racial and multi-cultural world defined by international forces (media, industry, environment, politics, etc.) which are not based on (and do not always respect) traditional notions of independence and autonomy.
Living Traditions includes a critical selection of masks (drawn from both public and private collections) and a new series of colour photographs of the pow wow. This combination foregrounds the significance of continuing traditions within contemporary First Peoples' culture. The pow wow is a contemporary phenomenon that draws on a diversity of Native traditions, (primarily Plains). Neel's masks, which directly engage contemporary political and social issues, build equally on established traditions.
Jealous Old Woman of Yalis, 1997
alder, paint, deer toes, cow hair.
55.8 x 45.7 x 17.7 cm
Collection of the artist
Neel considers himself to be a traditional carver, continuing to develop a form deeply ingrained in Kwakiutl culture. His engagement with such contemporary subject matter as the Kuwait oil fires, the televised beating of Rodney King, and Chernobyl would at first appear to contradict his stand as traditional. Neel is, however, adamant that what makes his work traditional is the fact that he engages contemporary subject matter. He stresses that his ancestors dealt with their contemporary world through their carvings and he continues this tradition in his work. For Neel it is critical that First Peoples establish a place in the contemporary world through their traditions.
Mask of Racism (Rodney King), 1991
cedar, paint, cedar bark
63.5 x 27.9 x 22.8 cm
Collection of the artist
As a documentary photographer, Neel is also working out of an established tradition of concerned photography. Neel uses the camera as tool to both record and interpret contemporary life, and his bold images of the pow wow are a testament to the dynamism of an important aspect of contemporary First Peoples' culture.
In this series, Neel works with large format cibachrome images framed as diptychs, capturing the energy and community of these events that are staged throughout North America.
The Kamloops Art Gallery has published a fully illustrated catalogue of the exhibition that includes essays by Neel and Hunter. Their respective texts consider Neel's production in relation to Northwest Coast Native art, First Peoples' cultural debates, and the broader context of North American culture.
Kim Clarke Photography
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