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A look at Sakahan's contemporary indigenous art

National Gallery of Canada exhibition will 'change people’s expectations of what indigenous art is'

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My Sister, My Self (2007), Michael Parekowhai/Fibreglass, wood and enamel paint: My Sister, My Self is a 2007 sculpture/installation work by the 45-year-old Maori artist Michael Parekowhai, purchased only last year by the NGC. It’s of a seal, made from black fibreglass, balancing a white wooden stool on its nose. Atop the stool is a bicycle wheel. The stool and wheel are, of course, an art historical reference to Marcel Duchamp’s famous 1913 “readymade,” one of the ur-texts of Western modernism and conceptual art – except here Parekowhai has embraced the Maori craft tradition by making the stool and wheel rather than purchasing them, as Duchamp did.

Michael Parekowhai, My Sister, My Self, 2007. Fibreglass, wood and enamel paint (ed. 3/5), National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa ©

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Blanket Stories: Seven Generations, Adawe, and Hearth (2013), Marie Watt/folded and stacked blankets: The National Gallery invited Canadians to donate blankets to this site-specific installation by Watt, a Seneca artist, and to write a note explaining the significance of each blanket. More than 280 blankets were donated and stacked to totem-pole height (there are two Hudson’s Bay blankets just below the summit). Blankets have a charged status among North American First Nations, being a major item of trade in their initial dealings with colonizing powers, while the British considered using smallpox-infected blankets to subdue hostile tribes during the Seven Years War (1756-63).

Marie Watt, Blanket Stories: Seven Generations, Adawe, and Hearth (detail), 2013. Folded and stacked blankets, paper tags, Site

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Indian Act (2000-2002), Nadia Myre/beads, cloth, thread, 56 pages of amended Indian act of 1985: This is only the second time that all 56 pages of Myre’s Indian Act have been gathered in one place. Individual “pages” are held by numerous private collectors as well as museums such as the Smithsonian Institution, the Woodland Cultural Centre in Brantford and Regina’s MacKenzie Art Gallery, and by Myre herself, a 39-year-old Algonquin from Montreal. The words of the act are presented in white beads against a backdrop of red beads.

Nadia Myre, Indian Act, 2000-02. Glass beads, stroud cloth, thread and downloaded copies of the text of the Indian Act (chapter

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The Flight of Jangarh Singh Shyam (2007), Mayank Kumar Shyam/acrylic on canvas: Shyam is the 26-year-old son of Jangarh Singh Shyam, the founder of the Gond painting movement in the late 1980s. The Gond are one of India’s oldest and most populous tribes, its four million members living in the country’s central regions. While the Gond traditionally have decorated the walls of their houses and made tattoos and masks, it was J.S. Shyam who first adapted those decorations to ink, paint and paper. He died by suicide in 2001 in Japan, but relatives and associates have carried on – and personalized – the idiom.

Mayank Kumar Shyam, The Flight of Jangarh Singh Shyam, 2007. Acrylic on canvas, Collection of Lekha and Anupam Poddar. Photo co

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cantchant (2009), Vernon Ah Kee/12 surfboards, eight paintings, video: Brisbane-based Yidindji artist Ah Kee ruminates on two major Australian themes – surfboard/beach culture and aboriginal-white relations – in this two-room installation. The main space has surfboards hanging from the ceiling, their tops covered with indigenous iconography, the under-sides with faces of native Australians. The boards are surrounded by paintings with blunt words, expressions and sentences like “we grew here,” “hang 10,” and “an other thing.” The video features aboriginal surfers riding Ah Kee’s boards and bullets being fired into water-logged surfboards.

Vernon Ah Kee, cantchant, 2009. Video, 12 surfboards and 8 acrylic paintings on canvas, National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa © Co

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