Tuesday, June 13, 2006

New Haida Northwest Indian Art Exhibition Opens in Vancouver

'Raven Travelling' is a new Haida Northwest Indian art exhibition and is one of the most anticipated art shows of this summer to open this Saturday at the Vancouver Art Gallery. The new exhibition features more than 200 years of Haida Northwest Indian art. The collection of more than 250 totem poles, masks, jewelry and ceremonial regalia is the most complete exhibition of its kind ever assembled.

This show took years of preparation, negotiation and education by Haida participants and scholars who helped assemble the collection. It includes works from both public and private collections.

Nika Collison, curator of the Haida Museum in Skidegate, B.C., and one of the curators on the Raven Travelling show, says the show will illustrate the Haida concept that everything depends on everything else.

"Our art is derived from our lands and our waters," Collison said in an interview with CBC Radio.

The totem pole, for example, one of the most familiar of Haida artifacts, is more than just a beautiful work of art. "Totem poles for us carry all kinds of meaning," said Jim Hart, who has a 16.5-metre totem pole outside his home in Old Masset.

"This is family history. So when you stick a pole up like this, it's your connection to your past," he said.

Narrative is important in Haida Northwest Indian art and Haida stories run through modern works by Northwest Indian artists such as the late Bill Reid, Robert Davidson and Isabel Rorick as strongly as they do through the older works.

"We're telling a story that might be familiar to some when we talk about how our people survived, and yet I don't think it's something that's even taught in schools," said Collison, who is studying the Haida language.

One piece to be shown is Robert Davidson's 2005 acrylic on canvas 'Grizzly Bear' which is from the collection of Diana Krall and Elvis Costello. The raven and the eagle, symbols of the two defining Haida Northwest Indian clans and important characters in Haida Northwest Indian myth, are shown frequently in other pieces. The raven figure appears as trickster, transformer and creator. For more information on these characters, see the articles on the raven and the eagle.

Four different Reid sculptures are shown on the back of Canadian $20 bills, including The Spirit of Haida Gwaii and Raven and the First Men. More details of this monetary artwork is at Northwest Indian art banknote

The land is a traditional source of inspiration to Haida artists, but the exhibit also explores new influences on Haida art and key figures in development of a modern art form. Jewelry, canoes, chests, root-weaving and argillite plates are featured, along with prints, drawings, paintings and sculpture by contemporary artists of Haida heritage.

Raven Travelling: Two Centuries of Haida Art is at the Vancouver Art Gallery from June 10 to September 17.

For contemporary Northwest Indian art, see Free Spirit Gallery.

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