Commissioned by the Vancouver Art Gallery (VAG), Ovoidism is a 2016 work located at the former site of Vancouver’s old bus depot, west of the Canadian Forces Beatty Street Drill Hall and east of the Queen Elizabeth Theatre. This is the area where the VAG hopes to relocate. The Coast Salish Dancers in this photo are celebrating the opening of Ovoidism on September 22, 2016.
The ovoid, a classic form in Northwest Coast Aboriginal art, is a central component in artist Lawrence Paul Yuxweluptun’s work. Displayed in various sizes, his colourful ovoids grace various entrances of the current parking lot with several arranged in the parking lot itself. They are painted in the primary colours we often see employed in Northwest Coast art: black, red, blue, green, yellow, orange. The ovoid shape can represent heads, eyes, joints, wings, tails or fins. In Ovoidism, Yuxweluptun has chosen to isolate the ovoid shape by placing it alone or ovelapping with others but not directly suggesting a particular representation of a face or body part. He feels his isolated ovoids allow him to exercise freedom from the formal criteria in which native art is judged and also serve as a way to invade Western modernism.
A huge theme of Yuxweluptun’s is the unceded territory of the Coast Salish peoples. His current show at the Museum of Anthropology (MOA)is titled: Unceded Territories. Of Coast Salish/Okanagan background, he is a modern day warrior using his art to powerfully express the historical and current injustices to his people, be it land rights, environmental disasters, or racist attitudes. He describes his paintings as Visionism, a neo-surrealistic vision rooted in ancient Coast Salish knowledge.
His trees, rivers and mountains are animated with spirit beings painted in vivid colours. Many of his figures are almost skeletal, and robotic appearing when their joints are formed by traditional ovoid forms. It lends an eerie and powerful aspect to these beings. His paintings also depict and satirize politicians and corporate leaders using human figures with heads shaped by Aboriginal forms. Yuxweluptun sees them as environmental terrorists despoiling the land and suffocating the Aboriginal way of life; all of this occurring on territory that has never been ceded, i.e., land that was never surrendered, relinquished or handed over in any way by Aboriginal people, which is in fact most of BC. This has great implications for issues like pipelines and tanker traffic when passing through unceded territory, especially with little or no consultation with Aboriginal people.
Perhaps most poignant of his work at MOA is an installation entitled: Residential School Dirty Laundry. It is composed of underware briefs in the shape of a cross. There is blood at the places where the nails on the cross would have been. It speaks to the sacrifice and sexual exploitation of native children in residential schools.
Considering all of the above, the ovoid forms at the site of Ovoidism, may serve as eyes or observers on this unceded territory. From the 1880s to 1943, the site served as a sports ground, a place for rallies and the drilling ground for the Beatty Street Drill Hall. During this time it was known as Cambie Grounds and later Larwill Park after the owner of a shack who helped store sports equipment for the players. After 1943, it served as a bus depot till 1993. It has basically served as a parking lot since 1993 with the exceptional use as a temporary venue for the 2010 Olympics. Cars were set on fire there during the 2011 Stanley Cup riot. The city has now designated two thirds of the lot for the new VAG, the rest set aside for development.
The ovoids are a way for Yuxweluptun to muse on the past, present and future happenings at the site and to remind us all that this is the unceded territory of the Coast Salish people.
Unceded Territories is at MOA unitl Oct. 16. Ovoidism is on display till September, 2017.