The Proust Questionnaire: Sonny Assu
The Proust Questionnaire started as a Late Victorian parlour game, aimed at revealing key aspects of a person’s character. While still in his teens, author Marcel Proust answered a similar series of questions with such enthusiasm that, when the manuscript containing his original answers was discovered in 1924, his name became permanently associated with this type of informal interview.
Photo: Chris Meier
Born in Richmond, B.C. in 1975, Sonny Assu is Ligwilda’xw (Kwakwaka’wakw) of the We Wai Kai Nation of British Columbia. After accidentally learning about his Indigenous ancestry in elementary school, Assu was driven to explore his heritage. As an adult he began creating witty, insightful art, imbuing his paintings, sculptures, prints, installations and interventions with a wry humour that he says opens a conversation about consumerism, colonization and imperialism.
Assu has received a number of awards, including the Emily Award in 2007 and the British Columbia Creative Achievement Award for First Nations’ Art in 2011, and was longlisted for the prestigious Sobey Art Award in 2012, 2013 and 2015. His work can be found in the permanent collections of a number of international museums and galleries, including the National Gallery of Canada, as well as in private collections across Canada and the United States.
This summer, Assu will be featured in two solo exhibitions. Continuum runs from June 12 to September 6 at the Thunder Bay Art Gallery, and Day School will be on view at the Equinox Art Gallery in Vancouver from June 13 to July 11.
Your earliest memory of art:
Drawing commercial fishing boats in elementary school. I spent summers on my grandfather’s boat.
When you knew this would become your vocation:
When my studio was in my apartment, waking up in the middle of night and painting in my underpants.
Your greatest influence:
Occupation you would have chosen (other than art):
Favourite pastime (other than art):
Drinking coffee and people-watching around Main Street in Vancouver.
Rebecca Chaperon. She’s one of my oldest pals, and I’ve loved seeing her work evolve over the past few years.
Favourite writer and musician/composer:
At the moment, I gotta say Sage Francis. Powerful and intelligent hip-hop. His latest LP is called Copper Gone. I had a major fan-boy moment when I saw the name of the new release, with a limited-edition vinyl record that looked like copper! I tweeted him (twote?) a shot of my work Ellipsis. He was gracious in his reply.
Favourite colour, flower and bird:
Green or red, lily, and raven.
Favourite food and drink:
Sushi and cider.
Favourite smell and sound:
Cedar, and the water lapping on the pebble beach by my grandmother’s village.
I have a die-cast car collection; my 1967 GTO is the fave of the bunch.
Favourite environment or landscape:
Pacific Northwest Coast.
Favourite weather or season:
DEFINITELY NOT WINTERS IN MONTREAL!
Favourite expression, catchphrase, proverb or word:
This will just turn into a listing of dad-jokes.
People smoking in public places, where they shouldn’t be, and people not giving up seats to those who need it on public transport. Actually, just rude people.
Some say I’m a bit stubborn; I don’t see it.
Your definition of happiness:
Kissing my daughter on the cheek when I check in on her at night.
Ideal place to live:
In BC, close to the water.
A recurring dream:
If I have any, I don’t remember.
For Canadians to understand their hidden history.
Aspirations before you die:
That we turn our environmental destruction around before it’s too late.
To me art is:
A learning tool.