Form as Meaning: traditional Coast Salish design elements tell stories through art
'Being able to speak for ourselves instead of being spoken for, that’s an act of empowerment itself'
The Art Gallery of Greater Victoria's latest exhibition features First Nations prints curated by Indigenous artists.
The exhibit, Form as Meaning, features the bold designs from decades of Coast Salish and Northwest coast Indigenous art and explores the use of traditional shapes to tell a story.
Red, black and green forms fill the gallery, and co-curator LessLIE said that being in a leadership role on this project was an inspiring experience.
"It's really important for First Nations people to be more extensively involved in curating and organizing exhibitions as an act of empowerment, being able to speak for ourselves instead of being spoken for, that's an act of empowerment itself," he told North By Northwest's Sheryl MacKay.
Alphabet of images
The exhibit features work from Musqueam First Nation artist Susan Point, whose art incorporates the traditional design elements of circles, ovals and crescents.
LessLIE explained that Point often described the elements of the Coast Salish art traditions as being comparable to an alphabet with each form visually spelling a word, like "killer whale" or "thunderbird."
"With Coast Salish art, largely what we want to do... is to have the suggestion be visually vague and ambiguous." He said that the images are made to be accompanied by traditional performances of song and dance.
"The art doesn't stand by itself… It's integral that other aspects of the culture create the full expression."
LessLIE's art is also featured as part of the exhibit and his piece Spinning Whorl(d) plays with the idea of movement both visually and with the wordplay in the title.
The feeling of the rings in the print shifting and winding give the optical illusion that the image isn't actually still.
He didn't want the image to be static, saying that "hanging something on a wall in the same way that Coast Salish people were hung here in Victoria because of cultural differences" was part of why he wanted to make the print jump out at the audience.
The exhibit runs until June 17 at the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria.
To hear the full interview listen to media below:
With files from North By Northwest