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Sonny Assu's Re-Invaders, 2014.

Collection of the artist

What are those hovering in the sky around the church in that famous painting by Emily Carr? Emblazoned in the pink and purple shades of a graffiti burner and pictured descending on the village of Yuquot, they look like alien crafts – the kind from Space Invaders. But also like the figures you find on masks and carvings in Northwest Coast art. The artist has titled his intervention over the reproduction Carr Re-Invaders. The question is: What have these visitors come for? Or maybe it’s: Who have they come for? The print by artist Sonny Assu, who is Ligwildaʼxw of the Kwakwaka’wakw Nations and resides in Campbell River, B.C., appears in the exhibition Indigenous Futurisms: Transcending Past/Present/Future, on view through July 26 at the IAIA Museum of Contemporary Native Arts in Santa Fe, N.M.

The show features artworks that imagine the future from an Indigenous perspective. Many of its inclusions deploy sci-fi themes to address issues such as colonization, racism and environmental crisis. Among its 27 artists and artist teams, Indigenous Futurisms also includes the work of Canadians Shelley Niro and Skawennati. Contributing to something of a theme in the exhibition, Assu’s Re-Invaders confronts the poisonous, long-lived misbelief that Indigenous peoples are a vanishing race. The image, co-curator Chelsea Herr says, suggests an alternate timeline in which “an extraterrestrial invasion supplants the historic invasions of foreigners on Indigenous lands.”

Assu envisions cosmic voyagers, or perhaps Indigenous time travellers, launching a re-invasion in the early stages of the Canadian colonial project. He crafts this fantasy in the present, painting overtop an icon of the old Canadian visual canon. Every piece of graffiti is indeed a declaration from its author: I am here.

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