Identity: Art as Life brings together First Nations artists Curtis Wilson, Richard Thomas and Vince Smith for an exhibit at The View gallery at Vancouver Island University. (JOSEF JACOBSON/The News Bulletin)

First Nations artists offer stories behind the art

Artists from three Vancouver Island First Nations show work at Nanaimo’s VIU gallery

The paintings and carvings hanging from the walls and resting on podiums at Vancouver Island University’s The View Gallery tell the stories of the artists and those who came before them.

The exhibition, called Identity: Art as Life, brings together artists Curtis Wilson, Richard Thomas and Vince Smith, who hail from Wei Wai Kum First Nation, Snuneymuxw First Nation and Ehattesaht First Nation respectively. The show is part of the inaugural TimberWest First Nation Cultural Art Showcase Program and will remain on display until Nov. 14. A reception was held at in the nearby Malaspina Theatre lobby on Sept. 14.

TimberWest president and CEO Jeff Zweig said his company has been working with First Nations communities for a long time and that learning and understanding the historical and cultural context of Vancouver Island is a part of reconciliation. He said the art showcase is a step towards that.

“We have the privilege of viewing a lot of stunning artwork and interacting with some very talented artists, but the work really comes to life when you hear the stories behind the art. We want to share that experience with you,” he said at the reception.

“We are honoured that the three artists, Vince, Curtis and Richard, representing the three language groups on Vancouver Island, are sharing their art with us here today. You can feel their personal and collective experience expressed in these works. Many of these pieces on display are highly symbolic and spiritual. You can see the pride, hope and passion for cultural identity in these pieces.”

VIU president and vice-chancellor Ralph Nilson said the university’s history has similarly run parallel with that of the nearby First Nations. He said it’s the responsibility of the university to create spaces like The View to allow for continued learning, sharing and understanding between peoples.

“Every time we have a conversation, every time we have an event like this, we learn,” he said.

“The incredible gift that we have with the three artists … is the gift that they’re sharing with us of their knowledge and their experience and their history. Because when we go and look at their art, we’re looking at their families, we’re looking at their culture and we’re looking at everything that they bring to life in terms of what they’re putting into wood, what they’re putting into paper, what they’re putting up in the various pieces that we’re going to see in the gallery.”

Smith, a graduate of VIU, said he’s proud to be showing his work at his alma mater. He said after he left the school he had no idea where his art would take him, and while he’s had many other jobs, he always returned to art. He said his work is made with his ancestors in mind.

“A lot of my art work pertains to what I am taught, all the stories that I’ve heard many elders talk to me about,” he said.

“After I finished [at VIU] I went to many elders conferences in Nuu-chah-nulth territory to learn a lot because I wanted to learn something different than what I learned in college and it brought me to where I am today with my artwork.”

Fellow VIU alumnus Wilson said he felt hesitant to represent his nation in the exhibition, as he still considers himself to be a student. But when he heard the show would occur in the place where his artistic career began, he said it felt right.

“I lived in the dorms a stone’s throw from this place and I was carving in a little bedroom [with] wood chips on my floor. This is where it started for me so it’s really nice to be part of something that’s back on campus,” he said.

“My artistic abilities come from my mother’s uncles and my cousins and I have to acknowledge the things that they gave me. Doing this today is giving me the opportunity to give back, giving me the opportunity to teach other people about what our culture is today and it’s giving me the opportunity to maybe teach my children.”

Thomas is a self-taught artist who first experimented with art by drawing images from books on the walls of his room at his residential school. Eventually he moved to carving and now he makes art his livelihood.

“I don’t know where my life would have ended up if it wasn’t for the native art that I learned,” he said.

As the reception moved from the theatre lobby to the art gallery, Thomas said he’s hoping his works, including a series of totem poles, lead viewers to develop an admiration of First Nations art.

“I just want them to appreciate it … and if they come away happy that they’ve seen it, then I know I’ve accomplished my job.”

art@nanaimobulletin.com

Just Posted

Ladysmith, Stz’uminus celebrate ‘Salish Wind’ unveiling

Ladysmith and Stz’uminus residents gathered together last Wednesday night to witness the… Continue reading

150 flags to be raised at Ladysmith’s Aggie Hall for National Child Day

Ladysmith Family and Friends leads project to have children, but also a few adults, paint 150 flags.

Heavy rainfall causes sinkhole along Ladysmith street

Heavy rainfall and the resulting erosion caused a sinkhole to form early… Continue reading

Second boat sinks in Ladysmith Harbour in less than a month

A boat has sank in Ladysmith Harbour marking the second such incident… Continue reading

Chemainus Festival takes theatregoers on comedic Christmas trip to Cancun

Grab your sandals and 80s Christmas sweater and let Chemainus Theatre Festival take you to Cancun.

UPDATE: More searchers out looking for missing senior near Nanaimo

Search and rescue personnel from all over the Island are looking for 73-year-old Faye Hanson

VIDEO: Rare comic showing Superman’s 1st appearance to be auctioned

The 1938 comic features Superman hoisting a car over his head

Pine beetles from Jasper National Park moving into commercial forest

In 2014, beetle activity went from a few spots around Jasper’s townsite to rampant

VIDEO: Tragically Hip members, Alex Trebek receive Order of Canada

Newest recipients join 6,897 Canadians such as Christine Sinclair, Graham Greene and Mark Messier

AC/DC’s Malcolm Young dies at 64

‘Malcolm was a songwriter, guitarist, performer, producer and visionary who inspired many.’

‘I will now live in consistent fear’: Allan Schoenborn granted escorted leaves

The Merritt man was deemed not criminally responsible in the killing of his three children in 2008

Hammy the deer dodges conservation officers in Prince Rupert

The famous Prince Rupert hammock deer maintains his purple threads

‘No shirt, no service, no Canada’

Shirtless Tacoma man arrested after Canadian border officials say they found meth in rental vehicle

Nasty note on B.C. windshield sparks online outrage

Vernon’s Bailey McDonald is using a painful experience to start conversation about invisible illness

Most Read