Travelling Through Aboriginal Time and Space


Kevin McKenzie, 426 Hemi (2010), polyurethane resin and acrylic paint, 20.5 x 62.1 x 61 cm. NGC

While jouncing along the back roads of her home reserve in Alberta’s Montana Cree Nation, curator Diana Warren started thinking about using the notion of Aboriginal travel as the basis for an exhibition.

“I was fascinated by the idea of how, whenever I go back home to the reserve, my sister and I go around and visit relatives and cousins and aunts and uncles, and we spend a lot of time on these crazy washboard roads that kind of jar your bones,” she says by telephone from Winnipeg.  “There are the highways and stuff, but there seems to be a kind of more intimate and private way of moving through the time and space of the reserve.”

Don’t Stop Me Now reflects upon how First Peoples physically travel by cars, planes, bicycles, snowmobiles and trains. But it also delves into emotional, spiritual and psychic travel, to and through, Aboriginal spaces. In pulling together a broad range of works held by the National Gallery, Warren has created an exhibition that is thoughtful, sometimes whimsical, yet also “heavily political.”

Tim Pitsiulak, Untitled (Cockpit) [2008], coloured pencil, coloured felt pen and graphite on wove paper 121.5 x 240.5 cm. NGC. © Dorset Fine Arts

“I started to look at various ways of travelling, especially between major urban centres and really northern, private communities, where you have to fly three hours up North to get to your community,” she says. “Then there were some great projects by Steven Yazzie, who was doing the soapbox car. He was travelling through time and space through his traditional territory using this idea of a vehicle that was very childlike, totally handmade, and completely the opposite of an automobile.”

Warren, now the director of Urban Shaman Contemporary Art in Winnipeg, curated Don’t Stop Me Now in 2010, while she was the Canada Council Aboriginal Curatorial Resident at the National Gallery. The exhibition showcases work by 12 First Nations, Inuit and Indigenous artists from Canada, New Zealand and the United States. Warren says she likes the mix of established, well-known artists with others she describes as “on the edge and ready to explode.” 

Kevin McKenzie, for example, uses cast resin buffalo skulls, emblazoned with the names of vintage hotrod, or “muscle” cars and high-performance engines. Kevin Lee Burton uses text and sounds from the Cree language to create a visual soundscape in his video, Nikamowin (Song).

Kevin Lee Burton, Nikamowin (Song) [2007], digital video disk (DVD), 11:15 minutes, NGC

“You really get a sense of where the artist is from—what they were thinking about regarding their own community, or moving to another community,” says Warren. “Tim Pitsiulak has these big drawings of cockpits of him flying into his community. Then there’s Larry McNeil, who moved when he was very young from Yukon down to South America, so his piece is about his experience of moving from his home community to a large urban centre. Terrance Houle’s piece is about the urban city itself. . . . It’s kind of a heavy piece about prostitution and the negative effects of Aboriginal people living in the city. I thought it was just so beautiful how the mirrors reflected the light; but it also reflected the projection that was on them. So you’ve got this kind of weird, creepy guy staring at you.”

The exhibition also features work by Sonny R.L. Assu, Mike MacDonald, Norval Morrisseau, Jamasee Padluq Pitseolak, Greg Staats, and Taika Waititi.

Don’t Stop Me Now can be seen at the Esplanade Art Gallery in Medicine Hat, Alberta until 9 February 2013.

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