Tricksters Laugh: Modern indigenous spirit with humour

Artwork by Alanna Edwards.| Photo courtesy of Alanna Edwards.

A Haida legend has it that at the beginning of the world, there was nothing but darkness and a raven. The raven, tired of flying in the dark, plotted a scheme to steal the light and spread it to the world. And that was how light came into the universe. Since then, Raven has become a Native American symbol of both creation and trickery.

Tricksters Laugh, an upcoming art exhibition hosted and organized by the Burnaby Arts Council will be held at the Deer Lake Art Gallery from July 7–Aug. 11.

The exhibition, which features contemporary indigenous artists Alanna Edwards and Geronimo, exemplifies this raven spirit as they navigate the themes of cultural identity, history, environment and everyday life with a sense of trickery and humour.

“I hope this exhibition can be fun and welcoming, as it is about making a connection with the viewer,” Edwards said.

By mixing contemporary and traditional materials with the natural and synthetic in unusual ways, she raises questions on the authenticity and the perception of objects through her artworks, alluding to her own identity and what it means to be considered an indigenous artist in Canada.

Humour underlies social and political message

Working under the alias “Geronimo”, a Native American warrior and healer, the second artist, Tamara Bell, is equally whimsical and unconventional. The artist blends traditional indigenous iconography with vibrant colours and playful concepts, usually with a humorous social or political message behind, thus creating a juxtaposition of styles reminiscent of pop art. Resurrecting a traditional indigenous practice of not signing the artwork with a real name but with the artist’s status number assigned by the government, Geronimo intends to make a statement that the artworks represent the entire indigenous community and a more democratic art world is still needed, which is inclusive for all and free of systematic racism, sexism and economic exclusion.

“The art world still doesn’t support women enough, particularly indigenous women,” Geronimo said, by adopting a male warrior pseudonym, she makes a stand against the gender bias that still exists in today’s world.

Despite deviating from indigenous art traditions in forms, at core both artists show a strong connection with nature through their artworks, reflecting the fundamental indigenous belief that the land is sacred and man has a spiritual relationship with nature.

In one of Geronimo’s paintings, a bear, the Native American symbol for protector, is holding a gun, showing that “nature is armed” as we continue to make our transgressions against it.

“We lost the inside for the outside,” Geronimo said, using art as a silent protest against the damages done by modern consumerism on the environment at large.

“The younger indigenous generation finds it hard to ascertain their identities, as they are split between fitting into the economic machine of the modern world and adhering to the traditional belief of protecting and respecting the land and nature,” Geronimo added, who is of the Haida raven clan.

Artwork by Geronimo.| Photo courtesy of Geronimo.

Culture and integration

With bicultural family backgrounds, the search and construction of a unique identity also permeate their artworks in this upcoming exhibition. For Edwards it is through the explorations of materials and presentations, while for Geronimo through colours and concepts.

“The indigenous culture is about a strong connection with the land, when we talk about integration, the question is whose cultural value should we integrate into, as the indigenous people were the original settlers of the land,” echoes Edwards who is of Mi’gmaq and settler descent.

Through humour, the exhibition wishes to share the playful and fun spirit of the indigenous communities while shedding new lights on how we look at the world because of our own culture and values.


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