Aboriginal art exhibit pushes boundaries

Kelli Clifton’s carving Raven and the Man in the Moon. | Photo by Kelli Clifton

Kelli Clifton’s carving Raven and the Man in the Moon. | Photo by Kelli Clifton

Pushing Boundaries is an Aboriginal art exhibition put on by the North Vancouver Community Arts Council at the CityScape Community Art Space that shines light on up and coming First Nations artists. From across the lower mainland, 16 artists come together to contribute artwork of a cultural, traditional and contemporary mix.

Janice Toulouse and Kelli Clifton are two participants from Pushing Boundaries’ handful of artists this year, both of them with a unique contribution to the exhibition.

Engaging in a movement

Believing that Indigenous people are making some of the most profound and innovative art today, Tolouse wanted to participate in the movement with other artists in Coast Salish Unceded Territory.

“My work is about pushing boundaries and challenging stereotypes of Aboriginal people,” says Toulouse.

For Kelli Clifton, this is the second time participating in the Pushing Boundaries exhibition. Although she was unable to attend the show originally, she heard a lot of positive feedback with regards to the content.

“With such a variety of artists, there is a certain type of energy and excitement present in the gallery. This is what drew me to apply for Pushing Boundaries 2015, and I am very proud to be a part of this show once again,” says Clifton.

Unique opportunities

Though mainly a painter, Clifton is excited about the chance to showcase two of her carvings in the exhibition.

“Both are interpretations of old stories told through my lens,” she says.

Clifton’s inspiration for her carvings is a mixture of both cultural and personal influence.

“My culture is what inspires me to create, however, my personal interpretation is what makes my work unique,” the artist adds.

Motivation can also come from mentors, and, for Clifton, this would be the Freda Diesing School of Northwest Coast Art.

“I always look to them for advice,” she says.

Her work is also encouraged by others, while she still follows her own vision.
“I create art from my personal vision,  I am inspired by the historical movements of the Woodland School of Art and the Northwest Coast [ and] I like to keep in touch with the art of Contemporary Aboriginal Artists nationally”, adds Toulouse.


Vision comes from all angles

Opening reception of the exhibit, including 11 of the 16 artists. | Photo by Stefanie Wysota

Opening reception of the exhibit, including 11 of the 16 artists. | Photo by Stefanie Wysota

Artists pull inspiration from many places, and, as an Anishinaabe Kwe, Toulouse finds that both cultural and personal motivation go into her artwork.

“I believe all Canadians must learn our history from an Indigenous perspective,” says Toulouse.

The painting Toulouse has included in Pushing Boundaries is entitled Nbiish, a meditative work that allows the viewer to contemplate to sacredness of water. This is a very personal piece to Toulouse, touching on the environment of her home town.

“My birth community of Serpent River First Nation has contaminated water from uranium mining in Elliot Lake. In the 1950s, the Canadian Government allowed a sulphuric acid plant to be dumped in the community of Serpent River, unconcerned of its impact on the residents. Finally after all the generations living with poisoned water, Serpent River received a water treatment plant in 2015,” explains Toulouse.

With all of her artwork made for exhibitions, Toulouse is more than familiar with creating artwork with a deadline.

“I work in a disciplined mind state that allows the images to flow, and the works are assembled to be presented to the public,” says Toulouse.

On the other hand, Clifton usually decides if her artwork is a fit for the exhibit after her work is done.

“My process is generally to create work, and then, when I see a call for artists, I am able to decide if any of my pieces are a fit for that show or not. In this case, Pushing Boundaries is very welcoming, so I felt confident in submitting my two carved pieces,” explains Clifton.

The 2015 Pushing Boundaries exhibition will take place from Oct. 9–Nov. 14 at the CityScape Community Art Space. For more information, visit www.nvartscouncil.ca.