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Beat Nation

Beat Nation: Art, Hip Hop and Aboriginal Culture is a new exhibit kicking off February 25 at the Vancouver Art Gallery. Yesterday morning, I was invited to preview the collection, meet a few of the artists, and get a feel for the space.

Beat Nation

The exhibit aims to reflect the changing face of Aboriginals today through the 27 artists from across the continent, from Nunavut to Newfoundland, down to New Mexico. Their art incorporates mash-ups of other modern cultures, transforming and repurposing the items as they see the world. The various pieces range from street life, graffiti, video, and costumes to bikes, merging pop culture with Aboriginal traditions.

Beat Nation presents a strong, bold, and positive affirmation of Aboriginal people. Artists from Beat Nation come from the Aleut, Apache, Cree, Haida, Inuit, Lakota, Mi’kmaq, Mohawk, Navajo, Tsimshian, and other communities.

Aboriginal hip hop draws on the heritage and background of these nations and over the past decade has become an important voice for urban aboriginal youth.

Dustinn Craig, 4wheelwarpony bro team, 2007, production still. Courtesy of the artist.
[Dustinn Craig, 4wheelwarpony bro team, 2007, production still. Courtesy of the artist.]

The idea originated from grunt gallery, whose space has a history of showing current Aboriginal works. The original project has grown to incorporate Beat Nation Live, and the VAG exhibit is an expanded version of what started back in 2008. There’s also 16 hip hop videos chosen for the exhibit including local artist Ostwelve (Musqueam Nation), to connect with the physical art. Jackson 2Bears’ video Heritage Mythologies (2012) explores Canadian heritage, asking ‘what does it leave out’? Several video artists chose to feature political and cultural themes in their works as well.

“This art sings, screams, whispers, beats a drum and proclaims our presence,” says Secwepemc co-curator Tania Willard, “Beat Nation shows, despite the many efforts to repress and eradicate our culture, that we are here. And we are thriving. Like the beats of our sacred drums, we echo our ancestors in the expression of culture regardless of medium: whether electronic beats or drum skins, natural pigments or neon spray cans, beads or bling, break dancing or ceremonial dancing, we do it as an expression of who we are, as indigenous peoples.”

Jackson 2Bears, Iron Tomahawks, 2006-11, live video remix (VJ performance) on turntables using digitally recorded vinyl records, laptop & video projector.
[Jackson 2Bears, Iron Tomahawks, 2006-11, live video remix (VJ performance) on turntables using digitally recorded vinyl records, laptop & video projector. Courtesy of the artist. Photo: Mark J. Bennett]

If you’re interested in hearing the hip hop artists live, this Friday night’s FUSE will be your ticket to both the exhibit and the performers. Ostwelve, Skeena Reece, Jackson 2Bears, Bear Witness, Nicholas Galanin, Raymond Boisjoly, and A Tribe Called Red will showcase their talent between 8:30 pm and 1 am on the 24th.

Duane Linklater "Tautology"

The entry point of the exhibit is The Beat room, containing Duane Linklater’s “Tautology” (2010), a neon thunderbird that becomes a future beacon, or an “entrance to a club within a city”.

The exhibit features several rooms, starting with The Beat and ending with The Tag. Here’s a few highlights of the exhibit, on through June 3, 2012.

Shawn Hunt "Master of Ceremony"
[Shawn Hunt, Master of Ceremony, 2011, acrylic on panel]

This piece depicts a master of ceremonies holding a talking stick as a microphone, an association to mainstream hip hop, drawing on the artist’s heritage and background.

Jordan Bennett "Turning Tables"
[Jordan Bennett, Turning Tables, 2010, walnut, oak, spruce, sound work]

Nature is recorded on these turntables, events embedded into the land. The visitor hears the span of the spruce tree’s life through the wood turntable set.

Sonny Assu's series of 136 copper LPs
[Sonny Assu: Series of 136 copper LPs on the wall]

Copper is considered a traditional display of wealth in Sonny’s North West Coast community.

Maria Hupfield "Bear Mask, with Ear to the Ground"
[Maria Hupfield: Bear Mask, with Ear to the Ground, 2011, fabric]

Maria’s worn this in various performances. She uses silver as a reference to its value as well as to a shiny object.

Maria Hupfield "Jingle Boots"
[Maria Hupfield: Jingle Boots, 2011, felt and jingles]

These are boots normally worn in pow-wows.

Skeena Reece "Raven on the Colonial Fleet"
[Skeena Reece: Raven on the Colonial Fleet, 2010, performance regalia]

Skeena is a performer, comedian, and community organizer. Raven on the Colonial Fleet was a collaborative piece, worn by Reece when she performed at Sydney’s Biennale (Colonial Fleet was the title of the performance). The outfit is a mash-up of different traditional regalia. The costume uses many forms of Aboriginal culture to create this unique piece.

Skeena Reece "Raven on the Colonial Fleet"

The rear has a sequined grenade on it!

Anishnaabensag Biimskowebshkigewag (Native Kids Ride Bikes)
[Dylan Miner: Anishnaabensag Biimskowebshkigewag (Native Kids Ride Bikes), 4 lowrider bikes, mixed media, 2012]

Anishnaabensag Biimskowebshkigewag (Native Kids Ride Bikes)

The piece represents the colours of the four directions (red, black, white, yellow). Dylan Miner, a Metis Michigan based artist was brought to Vancouver in late January, to work with several emerging local artists to create unique expressions of each artist involved.

Anishnaabensag Biimskowebshkigewag (Native Kids Ride Bikes)

The bike is seen as a tool of freedom, autonomy, and a sustainable mode of transportation.

With Jeneen Frei Njooti, Vuntut Gwich'in First Nation member
[Jeneen Frei Njootli posing in photo with her bike creation]

Coppers from the Hood
[Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas, Coppers from the Hood “Terse Cell”, 2010, copper leaf and ink on car hood. Courtesy of the artist and Gordon Diamond.]

In this series, the artist repurposed car hoods and turned them into valuable, shiny objects using copper leafing and painting. Known for his Japanese Manga-specific style (Haida Manga), the figures painted on top are from this adapted style.

Corey Bulpitt and Larissa Healey site specific mural
[Corey Bulpitt, site specific graffiti mural in exhibit space, created with Larissa Healey]

A gorgeous piece painted on the wall in eight hours, using no stencils. Corey is a very accomplished carver who utilizes his talent to create large scale paintings.

Brian Jungen repurposed the Nike Air Jordan sneaker to resemble Northwest Coast Aboriginal masks. Five are included in the exhibition, including the first, Prototype for a New Understanding #1.
The last piece in the series is Prototype for a New Understanding #2, commissioned by Michael Jordan and regularly hangs on Jordan’s office wall.

Brian Jungen "Prototype for a New Understanding #2"
[Brian Jungen: Prototype for a New Understanding #2]

Marianne Nicolson pictogram

Victoria-based Marianne Nicolson created an enormous pictogram depicted on a cliff face using copper rendered in a red ochre pigment This 38 foot design sits at the entrance to her ancestral village. This is officially the first pictogram that has been done in her territory in the past 500 years. The pictogram is a way of claiming space and claiming land, and works wonderfully in the exhibit’s final room, The Tag.

All exhibition photographs are mine, except where specifically noted in the caption.

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