Welcome!

Hello ENGL 470, and welcome to my blog (that I have yet to come up with a creative title for, but perhaps inspiration will strike sometime during this semester)! This blog is a component of a Canadian Studies course I am taking at the University of British Columbia (UBC) titled “Canadian Literary Genres” or as Dr. Patterson has named it – “Oh Canada … Our Home and Native Land?”.

I’m a third year Art History major, although this is still my first year at UBC. I did the first two years of my undergrad at the University of Ottawa, but it was just too cold for me there, so I decided to move back home to BC where I find the mild climate more agreeable!

So far in my studies in Art History I’ve had the privilege of learning about many past and contemporary Canadian artists. One of the things I love most about art is the power that it has to communicate with the viewers. Whether its a political message, or an artist’s personal story, art opens up opportunities for dialogue through what the art is communicating, and how the viewer receives, interprets, and responds to the message that is being communicated.

As this is my first upper-level English course I was a bit nervous about taking it on, but after reading the course blog more I was able to draw many parallels from what I know about studying art to what we will be learning in the class. As is also the case in literature, First Nations artists have often been excluded from what we have been told is “Canadian art”. We know of the Group of Seven, and Emily Carr as artists who were known for producing what is often held as quintessential Canadian art, but in order to really understand what Canadian art is we have to realize that the omissions speak volumes. I am grateful for the professors I have had who taught me to problematize the idea of a Canadian art that is predominantly white and male, and who exposed me to the works of many great First Nations artists! One of my favourite contemporary First Nations artists is Vancouver based Brian Jungen who uses his art to critique stereotypes and the appropriation of Aboriginal cultures. Check out his exhibition “Prototypes for New Understanding,” its amazing how he can take pairs of Nike Shoes and re-work them to resemble traditional masks of the Coast Salish people!

Jungen_Prototype_23

In this course I look forward to exploring literature as a different medium of storytelling than what I am used to with art, and I hope to expand my understanding of how European and First Nations stories and perspectives have shaped Canadian literature. I am always open to constructive feedback with my writing, and discussion, so please comment!

– Natasha

Works Cited

“Emily Carr.” Vancouver Art Gallery. n.d. Web. May 12, 2016.

Gambino, Megan. “One Man’s Trash is Brian Jungen’s Treasure: Transforming everyday items into Native American artwork, Jungen bridges the gap between indigenous and mass cultures”. Smithsonian Magazine. September 2009. Web. May 12, 2016.

“Group of Seven”. Canadian Encyclopedia. n.d. Web. May 12, 2016.

Jungen, Brian. “Prototype for New Understanding #23”, 2005. Nike Air Jordans, 18Ω x 20Ω x 5 7/8. Collection of Debra and Dennis Scholl, Miami Beach, Florida. Courtesy of Debra and Dennis Scholl. October 16, 2009. Web. May 12, 2016

9 thoughts on “Welcome!”

  1. Hi Natasha!
    I enjoyed your insight on the omission of Indigenous artists and Indigenous writers – I had never thought about that before. I am interested to read how you apply your art history knowledge to interpreting literature and oral stories because I think all three are a great way to communicate histories.

    1. Hi Samantha!

      Yes, unfortunately First Nations artists have often been excluded because for much of history their traditional art was not even considered to be art! Practices like weaving and beadwork were seen more as artifacts and less as art, meant for museums and not for art galleries. It interesting to see now how institutions like the Vancouver Art Gallery and the Museum of Anthropology (right here on UBC’s campus!) are now working to redefine what Canadian art is to include First Nations cultures. Thanks for your comment!

  2. Hi Natasha! I enjoyed your insight in paralleling art history with literature— in a few literature courses I have taken, profs have introduced that concept as well and I think the overlap is actually quite interesting, because it allows us to conceptualize the bigger picture regardless of what discourse we are knowledgeable in.

    I checked out Brian Jungen’s exhibition upon your recommendation, and I have to agree that it is pretty amazing to take something as innocuous as a shoe and manipulate it into something creative and thought provoking.

    Looking forward to more of your posts. I really did enjoy your insights.

    Victoria

    1. Hi Victoria!

      I’m really looking forward to seeing how the disciplines overlap too. Art History is pretty multi-disciplinary, and I believe that literature is too, so this should be a really fun course! I’m so glad you checked out Brian Jungen’s exhibition! He also did this one where he made a huge sculpture of a whale skeleton entirely out of plastic chairs. It looks like something that could be in a natural history museum, its so impressive. Thanks for your comment!

  3. Hi Natasha!
    Your blog struck a cord with me, though I’m not entirely sure why or for what purpose it brought this to mind — in Whistler, where my parents live, the municipality recently opened up the Audain Art Centre, which is supposed to house the largest collection of Native art on the west coast. The fact that it is a white man’s collection, and a man who doesn’t have, to my knowledge, Native blood, has left me feeling uncomfortable. I’m not sure why — perhaps my thinking is that the makers of the art should have the most control over it. But then I guess all art is spread across the globe — Italian masterpieces in Paris, Japanese ceramics in London. I’m just wondering what you think of collections, or the dispersal of art to the highest bidder — is it right, in your opinion, for art to be concentrated in the hands of a few? Or, to suit our purposes, in hands that don’t necessarily understand it, like a white man collecting Native art and possibly not completly understanding its cultural significance?
    — Mia

    1. Hi Mia,
      Great question, its a very important one, and certainly one that is not easily answered. It is unfortunate and true that First Nations people have not always had a say in how their artwork is used. In 1880 when the Indian Act was passed, in an effort by the Canadian government to enforce the cultural assimilation of First Nations people, the trading of ceremonial objects and artwork (known as a Potlatch) was considered a criminal offense. As traditional objects and art works were confiscated, many fell into the hands of wealthy white men and women who saw the objects as collectible cultural artifacts. When the ban on the Potlatch was lifted, some of these objects were reclaimed by their original owners, but a lot of it was not. Most of the remaining objects then ended up in museums, where it was still in the hands of white people who, as you said, did not completely understand their cultural significance. Today, art galleries and anthropology museums have realized the importance in opening up dialogue between the institutions that house these collections, and First Nations people themselves. My opinion is that it is important for First Nations art to be treated with respect, and I believe that a big part of respecting the art is for it to be handled in a way according to how the First Nations people wish for them to be handled. There is a great significance in having artwork of First Nations artist on display in art galleries because it has an educational purpose, and it celebrates a culture that our country has not always appreciated. This can be problematic though when non-Natives make the decision that certain artwork and objects ought to be preserved and displayed for educational purposes, even when the people whom the cultural objects and art belong to are opposed to it. An example is the totem poles from Haida Gwaii that were taken from their natural setting and brought to Vancouver to be preserved and displayed. In the Haida culture, it was natural for the totem poles to decompose in their natural setting, so their removal has been criticized for not respecting the cultural significance they hold. Another example is the display of ceremonial objects that are considered to be so sacred in their culture, that displaying them in an art gallery or a museum is incredibly offensive. So I guess to summarize, it is an unfortunate reality of colonization that First Nations art has not always been controlled by those who understand its cultural significance. I don’t think this is right by any means but the only thing that can be done now is making sure that the opinions of First Nations people are prioritized over the opinions of non-Natives to ensure the art is handled with respect. I could honestly write an essay about this, so I’ll stop here, but if you have any more questions I’d be happy to try answering them. Hope I answered your question, sorry my response it so long.

      ps- I looked up the Audain Gallery, and I agree with you that it doesn’t seem right for a gallery dedicated to First Nations are to be named after a white man, but the exhibitions themselves look pretty great! Mixing both traditional and contemporary First Nations art celebrates the history of First Nations cultures, as well as the place it has today as a contemporary and vibrant culture!

  4. Hi Natasha,
    I completely agree with your comment regarding the power that art has on its viewers. As I was reading that point, I couldn’t help but notice the amount of comments/observations I have seen in regards to the First Nations art (ex. totem poles) and how this increased misunderstanding of First Nations art symbolizes that the First Nations population in Canada has been marginalized and oppressed on the basis of stereotypes and the ‘fear of the other’ phenomena. Unfortunately, as it pertains to the lack of general knowledge regarding Canadian art and artists, I am of the mind set that the increased emphasis placed on the influx of the American Pop. culture over the past few decades is culturally dominant in Canadian society and represents the mis-understanding of Canadian art and artists. Your point about the First Nations art being under the control of primarily white people also symbolizes the oppression and discrimination that they have faced as a result of settler colonialism. My question for you is what could be some examples that the First Nations artists could critique stereotypes through the illustrations and visuals of art?

    1. Hi Deepak!

      You’re right that a misunderstanding of First Nations art is another way that they have been marginalized and stereotyped. As I mentioned in a previous comment, First Nations art was not always considered to be art, but it was regarded more as cultural artifacts that should be preserved for anthropological purposes. The collecting of First Nations art for preservation purposes was based out of a stereotype that their culture was rapidly disappearing and needed to be “saved”. Of course we can see now that First Nations cultures were never disappearing, they were just changing! When some First Nations communities began using motor boats instead of canoes, or living in western style homes as opposed to their traditional housing, there was this great panic that a culture was being lost, so of course white people took it upon themselves to be the saviours of First Nations culture. This mindset was a huge problem because it failed to see that First Nations cultures were vibrant and evolving, and instead saw them as purely rooted in the past. In Chamberlain’s book on pages 18-19, he points out how oral cultures have been wrongly celebrated for being “childlike” or primitive,” which kind of sums up the motivation behind the efforts to “save” First Nations cultures as they too were only valued for their “primitiveness” (I really don’t like that word). As for your question, I’m not sure I can answer what could be some ways for First Nations artists to critique stereotypes in their art, I guess that’s up to them to decide! But some of the ways that First Nations artists have critiqued stereotypes in their art is by combining traditional materials, and imagery, with contemporary mediums. Combining aspects of their culture that are traditional and contemporary resists the stereotype that First Nations culture has disappeared, or only has value if its traditional. The artist that I mentioned in my post, Brian Jungen, does this really well! His sculptures are based off of First Nations imagery, but they are all made with modern materials. His sculptures are sometimes made of materials that are sports related, to critique how First Nations cultures are appropriated in sports culture (like the Cleveland Indians and the Washington Redskins). Contemporary First Nations art is really cool and definitely worth looking into. Wether the message in the art is to resist a stereotype or not, its really important that First Nations art gets the exposure it deserves so it can play its part in shaping Canadian art!

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