February 24, 2012

Contemporary expression in Beat Nation

Beat Nation: Aboriginal art that breaks boundariesEven when the beat isn’t audible it’s present in the rhythm of ideas in a major exhibition on contemporary aboriginal art at the Vancouver Art Gallery.

Called Beat Nation: Art, Hip Hop, and Aboriginal Culture, the exhibition brings together 27 aboriginal artists from around North America. The exhibition has been designed so that hip hop, electronica and traditional music spreads beyond the boundaries of several works. Rather than something heard only in private on headphones, sound becomes public and serves to link the works on the second floor of the gallery.

One of the shared characteristics of all the works is how they represent a contrasting beat of ideas between honouring cultural traditions and giving them contemporary expression, according to Tania Willard, the co-curator of Beat Nation.

“We’re creating links with everything that’s come before us,” said Willard, who is also an artist and designer. “For all of these artists, it’s all about acknowledging their history and heritage and where they’ve come from but interpreting it in a way that makes sense to them and their experience now.”
Some examples of the exhibit's art:One of the most striking works in the exhibition is the clothing and regalia worn by Reece in her persona as Raven on the Colonial Fleet. It’s comprised of a curvaceous bustier covered in vertical Northwest coast designs and an apron with figures whose outstretched arms are reaching above their heads for AK-47 machine guns.

There are several works from the series Prototypes for a New Understanding by Brian Jungen whose work transforming everyday consumer goods into art has been a huge influence on other aboriginal artists.

Like Jungen, Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas isn’t directly inspired by hip hop but he too is working to adapt traditional forms to a contemporary setting. His Haida manga combines Northwest Coast imagery and formline with Japanese comic style.
Aboriginal artists shine at the VAG

Beat Nation at the Vancouver Art Gallery

Comment:  For more on modern Native art, see French Surprised by Native Diversity and Two New England Art Shows.

Below:  Skeena Reece's regalia as Raven on the Colonial Fleet.

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