2012 Audain professor Nicholas Galanin wins $50,000 in US fellowship

Nicholas Galanin, UVic’s 2012 Audain Professor in Contemporary Arts of the Pacific Northwest, has won a $50,000 Rasmuson Fellowship from the United States Artists organization.

The Sitka-born Galanin is a multi-disciplinary Tlingit/Aleut artist who has struck an intriguing balance between his origins and exploration in new perceptual territory. His teaching term with UVic’s Department of Visual Arts ran throughout fall 2012—shorter than previous Audain Professors Rebecca Belmore and Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas, but all the time his busy schedule would allow. Like Belmore and Yahgulanaas, however, Galanin will present an exhibit of new work in the Audain Gallery in September 2013.

Galanin’s famous “Inert”

United States Artists—a non-profit organization aimed at investing in “America’s finest artists”—has granted nearly $18 million to artists over the past seven years. Galanin is one of 54 artists who have each received an unrestricted grant of $50,000 this year. According to the USA news release, the artists were chosen for “reflecting the diversity of artistic practice in America” and include “cutting-edge thinkers and traditional practitioners from the fields of architecture and design, crafts and traditional arts, dance, literature, media, music, theater arts, and visual arts.”

Galanin’s “Things are Looking Native, Natives Looking Whiter”

As reported on the Canadian Art website, Galanin’s fellowship was in the Crafts and Traditional Arts category—although, as the USA news release states, “his work might also be described simply as contemporary art with Native themes.” Galanin is an artist who defies categorization, a visual artist and musician (who performs as Silver Jackson) whose multimedia pieces often involve computers, video, photo manipulation or sculpture in a variety of forms.

Speaking to the Anchorage Daily News, Galanin admits that some might see the “traditional arts” designation as a bit of a stretch. “But based on my contacts and the people on the panel, it was the right choice,” he told ADN. “A lot of my art comes from the traditional context. But I don’t care what they call it.”

Canadian Art‘s Leah Sandals notes that his work was recently featured in the Vancouver Art Gallery’s Beat Nation, a survey of artists “who connect Aboriginal identity and urban youth culture . . . A touring version of the show will open at Toronto’s Power Plant on December 15. Galanin’s work was also featured in group shows at Vancouver’s Grunt Gallery and Bill Reid Gallery over the past year, while Trench Contemporary Art (his Vancouver dealer) recently wrapped a solo show titled I LOOOOOVE YOUR CULTURE. His work was also in Montreal gallery Art Mûr’s A Stake in the Ground, curated by Nadia Myre, in January.”
When asked about his plans for the prize money, Galanin told ADN‘s Mike Dunham, “I’m saving it. Maybe it will go to buy a home or get my studio built.”

Sacred art, sacred teachings

Rande Cook at UVic (Photo Services)

It has been a busy couple of years for Rande Cook. Beyond his duties as chief of Vancouver Island’s ’Namgis Nation and his commitments as an in-demand contemporary artist with an international practice, Cook just completed two back-to-back terms as the Audain Professor of Contemporary Art Practice of the Pacific Northwest with the Visual Arts department.

“Two years in the position allowed me to really reach students,” says Cook. “I was able to delve into the role art plays in politics, and got them to dive deep within themselves. I pushed my students a lot and they seemed to appreciate that — the feedback at the end of the year said it was one of the more profound classes they had ever taken, because it challenged them internally.”

More than just creating a challenging course, however, Cook found the Audain Professorship provided him with the chance to bring his own artistic training into play.

Viewers at Cook’s Audain Exhibition

“Having the opportunity to share what I do from a strong First Nations background was key,” he explains. “Bringing that knowledge into an institution where students don’t really understand traditional teaching gave me the chance to share the real foundation of what the art is: that it comes from a sacred place, that the teachings are sacred.”

Cook is the sixth artist to hold the Audain Professorship, following the likes of Jackson 2Bears, Michael Nicol Yahgulanaas, Nicholas Galanin and Governor General’s Award-winner Rebecca Belmore.

As he reflected in this interview following his first year in the position, “I wanted to design a course around the work I’m doing right now, which means looking at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the murdered and missing Indigenous women, Idle No More, the REDress project, the round dance movement . . . about healing and bridging.”

Rande Cook speaking at the art education conference

Now he feels two years in the position allowed him greater freedom to explore key concepts. “I could break down the art form into its elements and show them how to put it back together. It was like dissecting a symphony: a violin can play anything, once you learn it, but it’s up to you to decide the song and how it should be played.”

Beyond his time in the classroom, Cook was also frequently seen around UVic in his role as chief, participating in events at First Peoples House, drumming for ceremonial openings, speaking at educational conferences, and taking part in discussions about greater indigenization on campus.

Cook also presented a retrospective of his work in October 2016 as the annual Audain Exhibition. Held each fall in the Audain Gallery, Cook’s Accumulation was timed to coincide with Intersections, a combined conference by the BC Art Teachers Association and the Canadian Society for Education through Art. A highlight of the event, Accumulation also provided context for remarks by Cook, who led a workshop at the conference — which also featured a keynote address by Michael Nicoll Yahgulaanas, a former Audain Professor himself.

Collaboration Mask, seen at the Audain Exhibition

Among the pieces on display at Accumulation was a mask collaboratively created with local artist Carollyne Yardley. Aptly titled “/kəˌlabəˈrāSH(ə)n / Collaboration Mask,” the piece is a good example of both Cook’s connections with Victoria’s greater arts community and his contemporary take on traditional art forms.

“in an era of reconciliation, art has once again become a node through which native and non-native engagement is flourishing through agendas of healing, understanding and respect . . . ‘/kəˌlabəˈrāSH(ə)n / Collaboration Mask’ is an aesthetic response to this cultural resurgence in Canada,” writes Fine Arts alumna Dr. Andrea Walsh in this short essay about the piece.

And does he think an important part of the Audain Professorship is to have a presence both in the community and across campus? “I really do,” he says. “I don’t find there’s a lot of true Northwest Coast representation in Fine Arts — there are people who study and teach it, but authentic Northwest Coast artists like myself are rare. Having people in those positions who can speak to that is important.”

Cook also feels it’s important to transcend academia’s traditional definitions. “There are no walls within our culture. I sat in a lot of meetings where people were saying, ‘We want to indigenize the university, how can we incorporate more indigeneity?’ But we don’t have walls between history and music and practice . . . if someone in the Audain position could keep that idea alive, it would be very beneficial.”

Cook (centre) at the opening of UVic’s Michael Williams building

Much like the bridges he builds with his art, Cook feels reaching new communities is an important part of his role as chief and educator.

“Overall, the Audain position gave me the opportunity to share a deeper, profound understanding with everyone — not just the art form, but where it comes from and what it’s about. You can see native art all over the place now, but there’s a deeper meaning to it . . . especially when you’re wanting to learn, to develop the skills.”

 

A full slate of exhibits by Visual Arts professors

Early 2017 is a busy time for our Department of Visual Arts professors, many of whom currently have exhibits both in and out of town at the moment. All too often, professors are only seen in the classroom, but these exhibits offer an invaluable opportunity to see their contemporary creative practice in action — while also demonstrating the important role UVic artists play in Victoria’s cultural community.

From Megan Dickie’s “One Way or Another”

One Way or Another is the latest sculptural exhibit by professor Megan Dickie. Focused on the failure involved in the quest for excellence, the project originated with a trilogy of videos that use classic video games as a platform to investigate human struggle; within this trilogy, a character blunders through a series of obstacles that constantly defy her.

These impediments are indicative of forms and concepts that drive Dickie’s artistic practice: logic inspired, insurmountable forms that are turned into absurd objects of physical comedy. The structures from the videos have been brought to life through sculptures that focus on endless patterns, and together, the sculptures and videos create an immersive environment of humorous persistence that question the value of human progress, and highlight the struggle for bigger, better, more.​

Read more about Dickie’s exhibit on the Art Openings cultural blog, written by Art History & Visual studies alumnus Kate Cino. “I am an observer of human behaviour,” Dickie tells Cino, “and find our patterns both fascinating and puzzling.”

One Way or Another runs to February 20 at Open Space, 510 Fort. Dickie will also host an artist talk and exhibition catalogue launch at 1:30pm Saturday, Feb 11.

Cedric Bomford (in black toque) amidst his AGGV installation (Photo: Corina Fischer)

Visual Arts professor Cedric Bomford is one of the artists participating in the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria group exhibit It’s in the Making, curated by Haema Sivanesan and Nicole Stanbridge. The artists in this exhibition use the act of making as a process of thinking. They investigate relationships between ideas, materials and things, take familiar materials and ways of making things and present us with new kinds of objects.

Whether it is crocheting with paint, building structures that destabilize our preconceptions of space, or transforming found images to create a new idea through collage, these artists challenge set ideas of how things should be. Working with Cedric on this site-specific piece are his longtime artistic collaborators, brother and father Nathan and Jim Bomford; the exhibit also features new works by west coast artists Angela Teng, Shelley Penfold and Jess Willa Wheaton, and former Visual Arts Audain Professor Nicholas Galanin.

“I am really drawn to the everyday structures we have around us that we don’t really see very much—the things that become scenery on your commute,” Bomford explains in this Canadian Art interview. “That’s a pretty productive territory to mine: the overlooked dynamics within everyday life. I’m also interested in the power structures that exist in architecture, and these are often overlooked too . . . . Putting viewers on different elevations establishes a different kind of relationship for a gallery. Normally in a gallery everyone walks on the floor and looks at objects. Very rarely are you to forced to acknowledge your relationship to other people in the space or other objects in the space.”

It’s In The Making continues to February 12 at 1040 Moss Street, with an exhibit tour at 2pm Sunday, January 29.

“En Trance” by Sandra Meigs (Photo: Winchester Galleries)

En Trance is the latest exhibit by Visual Arts professor Sandra Meigs. For over 35 years, Meigs has created vivid, enigmatic paintings that combine dense narratives with comic elements; her works gradually reveal layers of meaning, giving viewers insight into psychological spaces and philosophical ideas. In 2015, Meigs was doubly honoured to win both a Governor General’s Award and the $50,000 Gershon Iskowitz Prize at the Art Gallery of Ontario. 

Meigs says her paintings come from meditations that give entry to unlimited force, energy, love, being and presence. This allows a radical intervention into the practice of painting. The outcome of the intervention is exuberant visual energy coming forth through the work. Her work utters a call to pay attention, to wake up.

Each canvas permits an unfolding encounter. We can never really know the “experiencer”, she reminds us; we can only really know the experience. As such the paintings are talismans to elevate the soul, to get the small “egoic self” out of the way and to allow space for living in the moment.

All these paintings were completed during the summer of 2016, and En Trance offers a preview featuring 15 of the 30 paintings that will be exhibited in September 2017 at the Art Gallery of Ontario, as part of her Iskowitz Prize.

En Trance runs to to February 11 at Winchester Galleries, 2260 Oak Bay Ave, with a celebratory reception running from 7- 9 pm Saturday, January 28.

A scene from Paul Walde’s “Alaska Variations”

Visual Arts chair Paul Walde‘s 2014 Requiem for a Glacier installation and sound performance work continues to attract attention both nationally and internationally.  Requiem for a Glacier memorializes BC’s Jumbo Glacier area, an ancient feature of the landscape leftover from the last ice age, now under immediate threat from global warming and resort development.

Requiem received mention in the December 2016 issue of Canadian Art magazine as part of the fall 2016 group exhibit “The Edge of the Earth” at Ryerson’s Image Centre in Toronto, and it’s now on view at the WKP Kennedy Gallery in North Bay, Ontario, until February 10.

And after a successful summer 2016 run at the Anchorage Museum, Walde’s most recent piece — Alaska Variations, another installation and sound performance —  is currently touring with the museum exhibit The View from Here: The Arctic At The Centre of the World, curated by Julie Decker. The contributors explore the ideas of “wilderness” and “remoteness,” the lessons to be learned from cold places and indigenous knowledge, and how the Arctic is a signal for global change.

The View from Here was also part of the Tromsø International Film Festival in January 2017, and the exhibit itself continues to February 28 at the Nordnorsk Kunstmuseum in Tromsø, Norway — the northernmost art museum in the world.

Extracting Narratives

Visual Arts MFA alumni and current sessional instructors Jeroen Witvliet and Neil McClelland both have concurrent exhibits as part of the  Comox Valley Art Gallery show Extracting Narratives, an artistic program bringing together new work by these contemporary painters in an exhibition that draws attention to shifting relations found in daily life and varied stories told through the painted image.

“Our paintings create fictive, could-be landscapes addressing notions of what is familiar but strange, and suggests a sense of unease and difficult relationships between culture and nature,” Witvliet and McCelland say in the show’s statement. “We allow a relinquishing of control of ideas, but also of the painting’s surface through loose working of materials. The works are always alluding to something perhaps mythological, historical, or some possible future, but in ways that are purposefully ambiguous about what that something is. The images evoke a narrative, an aftermath or a beginning, but each painting is not about its separate elements.”

Witvliet’s exhibit is All Tomorrow’s Parties, while McClelland presents The Perfect Nowhere. “Our work invites viewers to construct meaning, to explore the in-between space between the separate elements within the paintings, and between the paintings in the gallery space.” Extracting Narratives runs to Feb 25 in Courtenary BC, with a community artist talk at noon on February 7 at North Island College’s Stan Hagen Theatre.

Neil McClelland also has his own solo exhibit: Everything is Being Perfected, running Feb 3 to March 4 at Deluge Contemporary, 636 Yates. McClelland’s body of paintings in this exhibit explores tensions between utopic and dystopic visions. His work is inquiring into notions of human happiness and perfectibility, the creation of Edenic paradises, disruption and dissolution of society, alienation and consumption, nature and culture, the monstrous and the beautiful, myth-making and storytelling. Taking imagery and inspiration from literature and film — along with art historical, historical, contemporary and personal sources — McLelland creates combinations and layers of digitally edited compositions that form the basis for beginning a painting in oil.

Althea Thauberger

And in other Visual Arts news, MFA alumna Althea Thauberger will be the 2017 recipient for the Faculty of Fine Arts at UVic’s 10th annual Distinguished Alumni Awards. Currently Artist in Residence in Photography at Concordia University in Montreal, Thauberger’s practice involves performative and collaborative processes in the production of social documents, as well as lasting engagements with the communities and sites they are produced within.

Her exhibitions and screenings have included the National Gallery of Canada, the Power Plant in Toronto, the  Overgaden Institute of Contemporary Art in Copenhagen, the 2012 Liverpool Biennale, the occupied Kino Zvezda in Belgrade and the Guangong Museum of Art in China, among many others.

Thauberger will receive her award at a special event on February 8; while back at UVic, she will also share her experiences with current students in the Visual Arts department.

Finally, Visual Arts is hosting a number of guest artists in the coming months as part of their long-running Visiting Artists series. Watch for free talks by Vancouver-based sculptor and set designer Alan Storey (January 25), curator and director of Calgary’s Esker Foundation Naomi Potter (February 8), Vancouver painter Ben Reeves (February 22) and artist and educator Barbara Cole (March 1). All happen at 7:30pm in room A150 of UVic’s Visual Arts building, and all are welcome.

Mi’gmaq filmmaker Jeff Barnaby kicks off Indigeneity & the Arts series

Fine Arts is proud to kick off its new Orion Series on Indigeneity and the Arts with a public presentation by acclaimed filmmaker, author & composer Jeff Barnaby.

Jeff Barnaby

Jeff Barnaby

While at UVic, Barnaby will be hosting a free screening some of his short films starting at 7pm Monday, Sept 26, in UVic’s David Lam Auditorium (MacLaurin A144), and will host a discussion and Q&A afterwards. He will also be making some classroom visits while on campus, talking with Fine Arts students in our various departments.

A Mi’gmaq member from Listuguj, Quebec, Barnaby was educated at Concordia University, and is best known for his 2013 feature film, Rhymes for Young Ghouls, which debuted at the Toronto International Film Festival. Barnaby’s first short film, From Cherry English (2005), won 2 Golden Sheaf awards (Yorkton) and played in dozens of festivals including Sundance, Tribecca, Fantasia, the Vancouver International Film Fest and the Atlantic International Film Fest; he has also created such acclaimed short films as The Colony (2007) and File Under Miscellaneous (2010).

He has been nominated for a Genie Award, won several other major awards and was named Best Director of a Canadian Film by the Vancouver Film Critics Circle in 2014. In 2015, Barnaby was one of four Indigenous directors invited to participate in the NFB documentary Souvenir. Watch his interview with George Stromboulopoulus here.

A scene from Jeff Barnaby's 2013 film, Rhymes for Young Ghouls

A scene from Jeff Barnaby’s 2013 film, Rhymes for Young Ghouls

The Orion Indigeneity Series is an important addition to our existing Orion Lecture series, which offers our students the opportunity to engage with numerous visiting professional artists each academic year. Fine Arts has a tradition of collaborating with indigenous artists, communities and scholars, and has been actively engaged in integrating culturally sensitive methodologies in our teaching, research and creative activity.

But the Orion Indigeneity Series is also our first phase of responding to the TRC recommendations and the UVic Indigenous Plan in meaningful and compelling ways, while simultaneously raising awareness of Indigenous cultural creativity for the UVic and wider community.

Jeff Barnaby is only the latest example of the people and projects we have been involved with in all five of our departments (Writing, Theatre, Art History & Visual Studies, Visual Arts, and the School of Music). Over the past few years, we’ve been working with the likes of artists Rebecca Belmore, Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas, Nicholas Galanin, Rande Cook and Jackson 2Bears in the Audain Professor of Contemporary Arts of the Pacific Northwest, hosting writers like Richard Wagamese and alumni Richard Van Camp, Eden Robinson and Philip Kevin Paul, holding workshops on indigenizing music education, using intergenerational applied theatre techniques to preserve the languages of the Hul’q’umi’num’ Treaty Group, and creating dynamic exhibits with Williams Legacy chair Dr. Carolyn Butler Palmer and guest artists Peter Morin and current Visual Arts MFA candidate Hjalmer Wenstob.

You can read more about Fine Arts and Indigeneity here.

 

Paths to Reconciliation

Situated on traditional Coast and Straits Salish territory, UVic is recognized for its commitment to and expertise in innovative programs and initiatives that support Indigenous students and communities. We recognize the special role the university can play in relation to Canada’s Indigenous peoples. We continue to build on our commitment to — and our greatly valued relationship with — Indigenous communities.

Peter Morin observes the big button blanket after it has been raised in First Peoples House (UVic Photo Services)

Peter Morin observes the big button blanket after it has been raised in First Peoples House (UVic Photo Services)

Our goal is to be the university of choice for Indigenous students, faculty and staff. One of the objectives in UVic’s Strategic Plan is to increase the number of Indigenous students graduating from all faculties, building on our commitment to and our unique relationship with Canada’s First Peoples.

UVic offers a growing range of courses and programs that reflect the cultural and historical perspectives of Indigenous people — including here in Fine Arts.

“The work of the instructors and students in the Faculty of Fine Arts embraces indigeneity and the arts as a means to embed Aboriginal perspectives and understandings into curriculum and research in meaningful and compelling ways,” says Dean Susan Lewis.

To this end, all five of our departments — Visual Arts, Writing, Theatre, Art History & Visual Studies, and the School of Music — have been involved with various people and projects over the past few years. Some, like Visual Arts, have established permanent positions, while others are exploring how Indigenous practices and knowledge can benefit their specific areas and students.

The Audain Professorship

In 2010, Governor General’s Award-winning artist Rebecca Belmore became the first Audain Professor of Contemporary Arts of the Pacific Northwest in the Visual Arts department — a continuing position that brings in different visiting artists. The 2011 Audain professor, Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas, described this unique rotating position as “a rare, needed and timely opportunity for Canadian society to reconsider its relationship to Indigeneity.”

Rande Cook and his class examine the pole he’s carving (Photo Services)

Now in its sixth year, the Audain Professorship has benefited from a variety of approaches and practices by all of its professors. Students gain valuable dynamic learning opportunities working alongside professional Indigenous artists. In addition to Rasmuson Fellowship winner Nicholas Galanin (2012), multimedia Kanien’kehaka artist and UVic MFA/PhD alumnus Jackson 2Bears spent two years as the Audain Professor (13/14), engaging with students. His 2014 Audain exhibit, For This Land, was created in collaboration with fellow Kanien’kehaka poet Janet Rogers.

’Namgis nation chief Rande Cook holds the 2016 Audain Professorship. A multi-disciplinary contemporary artist, Cook’s spring 2016 class focused on raising student awareness around current issues in Canadian first nations politics. “I wanted to design a course around the work I’m doing right now,” Cook explains, “which means looking at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the murdered and missing Indigenous women, Idle No More, the REDress project, the round dance movement . . . about healing and bridging.”

Noted alumni

Noted author Eden Robinson

Among the Department of Writing’s acclaimed alumni are celebrated Dogrib (Tlicho) Nation author Richard Van Camp, award-winning Haisla Nation author Eden Robinson and WSÁ,NEC Nation poet Phillip Kevin Paul. Van Camp — a noted author, screenwriter and storyteller — graduated in 1997 and has become one of Canada’s leading Indigenous authors. Robinson was shortlisted for both the Giller Prize & the Governor General’s Literary Award for her novel 2000 Monkey Beach, which subsequently won the Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize. Paul’s second book of poetry, Little Hunger, was shortlisted for a 2009 Governor General’s Literary Award and he has worked with UVic’s linguistics department to ensure the preservation of the SENCOTEN language.

Also in Writing, the late award-winning Ojibway author and journalist Richard Wagamese was 2011’s Southam Lecturer in Journalism and Nonfiction for the Writing department. His course on “The Power of Stories” was very popular, and his public lecture was a standing-room only event.

And Brittany Postal was named the winner of the 2016 Aboriginal Youth Award. Postal is a student with the En’owkin Centre’s Indigenous Fine Arts program, developed in cooperation with UVic’s Division of Continuing Studies and the Faculty of Fine Arts.

Indigenous Artist in Residence

Lindsay Delaronde running a corn doll workshop at Legacy Gallery in 2016 (photo: Corina Fischer)

Visual Arts MFA alumna Lindsay Delaronde was selected as the City of Victoria’s inaugural Indigenous Artist in Residence in March 2017. An Iroquois Mohawk woman born and raised on the Kahnawake reservation outside of Montreal, Delaronde also holds a UVic MA in Indigenous Communities Counselling, and sees both her art and counseling practice as intertwined.

“I hope to create artworks that reflect the values of this land, which are cultivated and nurtured by the Indigenous peoples of this territory,” she says. “I see my role as a way to bring awareness to and acknowledge that reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples is a process, one in which I can facilitate a collaborative approach for creating strong relationships to produce co-created art projects in Victoria.”

Recent projects

Graduating composition student Kim Farris-Manning presented her composition W̱SÁNEĆ SPW̱ELLO in April 2017. Combining music, dance and contemporary art in a collaboration between artists, students and elders, Indigenous people and settlers, this artistic collaboration featured students from both the ȽÁU, WELṈEW̱ tribal school in Brentwood Bay and UVic. The performance was held at the summit of SṈAKA (Mount Tolmie), and created a forum for thought and discussion surrounding respecting and honouring the earth and its people.

The School of Music’s Music Education Association recently hosted a series of workshops on “Indigenizing Music Education.” Funded by the Faculty of Education’s Community and Scholarship Fund, the workshops featured Alia Yeates, Butch Dick and others.

Hjalmer Wenstob at his 2016 exhibit, Emerging Through the Fog

In the spring of 2016, Nuu-chah-nulth artist and Visual Arts MFA candidate Hjalmer Wenstob presented the exhibit Emerging Through the Fog: Tsa-Qwa-Supp and Tlehpik – Together at UVic’s downtown Legacy Gallery. Featuring the work of Wenstob and the late “Fog-God” Art Thompson, the exhibit was co-curated by Wenstob and Art History’s Butler Palmer.

Applied Theatre professor & 2015 TEDxVictoria speaker Kirsten Sadeghi-Yekta is currently involved in a three-year project with the Hul’q’umi’num’ Treaty Group to use intergenerational applied theatre techniques to preserve their language — now only spoken by about 65 elders.

Also in Theatre, alumna Will Weigler conceived of the brilliant and moving 2013 performance, From the Heart: Enter into the Journey of Reconciliation. This community-based project was set within a 14,000-square-foot indoor labyrinth in Victoria, where audiences encountered scenes encouraging non-Indigenous people to take responsibility for learning more about their history as a step toward solidarity with first nations, Metis & Inuit people. Weigler has since published a book on the project, which serves as both a record of the Victoria production and a template for other communities interested in developing their own version of it.

Student Ali Bosworth Rumm sews buttons onto the Big Button Blanket (photo: Michael Glendale, Martlet)

A button blanket is important to Indigenous peoples of the Pacific Northwest for many reasons. Like a totem pole, it tells stories of people, places and events; it represents power and prestige; demonstrates extraordinary skill and sophisticated artistry; and creates a unique way of learning and knowing. That’s why Art History & Visual Studies professor Carolyn Butler Palmer, in collaboration with Tahltan Nation artist, curator, and consulting instructor Peter Morin, decided to create a class project to make the biggest button blanket in the world in 2013.

The subsequent exhibit Adasla: The Movement of Hands was mounted at UVic’s Legacy Galley in 2014, and garnered a great deal of attention in the community and the media. The blanket’s inaugural dance at the opening ceremonies of UVic’s annual Diversity Research Forum at First People’s House in February 2014 was a stirring and memorable event for all who attended.

Future plans

The Faculty of Fine Arts began a new Orion Series on Indigeneity and the Arts in the 2016/17 academic year, with Mi’gmaq filmmaker Jeff Barnaby as the first guest. More guests —including Indigenous writers, artists and scholars — will be invited to speak to our students and the general public each year.

Fine Arts is dedicated to embracing indigineity, and will continue to explore ways our students can benefit from more traditional ways of knowing.