'Monumental' exhibit brings a working halfpipe into the WAG

A working halfpipe, complete with a handful of skateboarders zooming across it, will be in the WAG Friday night. The exhibit will be on display for the next several months.

'Big move' challenges ideas of art, social space, curator says

Boarding exhibit at the WAG

7 years ago
Duration 1:03
The Winnipeg Art Gallery is opening two Indigenous art exhibits all focused on the artists' relationship to the land through snowboarding, skateboarding and surfing.

The normally-tranquil foyer of the Winnipeg Art Gallery was alive with unfamiliar sounds on Friday.

The rolling sound of hard plastic wheels on wood and the clicks and cracks of skateboard decks hitting rubber ledges echoed off the cool stone walls as a handful of Winnipeg skateboarders zoomed across an enormous wooden halfpipe set up in the corner of the room.

There's also a tiny version of the WAG itself set up with grind rails on the edges sitting in the middle of a brightly graphic mural on the floor.

A halfpipe is set up in the foyer of the Winnipeg Art Gallery for the Boarder X exhibit. (CBC)

It's all part of a pair of new exhibits, Boarder X and Vernon Ah Kee: Cantchant, showcasing Indigenous art connected to skateboarding, snowboarding and surfing from across Canada and Australia.

"[This is a] big move in terms of challenging art spaces, challenging cultural spaces, social spaces and really challenging cultural experiences," said Jaimie Isaac, the WAG curator behind the exhibit.

"I think that skateboarding is very performative and very creative, in that they're looking at the urban landscape through a completely different lens and they're looking through it in ways to use the space, ways to respond to the space that it wasn't intended for."

Boarder X features carvings, film, weavings and paintings from seven Indigenous artists across the country.

Cantchant is the work of Indigenous Australian artist Vernon Ah Kee, featuring painted surfboards suspended from the ceiling inspired by white protests against Lebanese immigrants in Sydney and Cronulla in Australia in 2005.

Vernon Ah Kee's exhibit, Cantchant, was inspired by the 2005 riots in Australia as white citizens protested Lebanese immigration. (CBC)

'Unapologetically political'

Isaac called Cantchant "unapologetically political."

"Being Indigenous is innately political. Self-identifying as being from an Indigenous nation or having Indigenous heritage is political," she said.

"I think it's significant in ways that artists are actually able to have that intersection of political, social, environmental, cultural, ways of thinking about the past but thinking about the present as well. That intersection is really what Boarder X is bringing about."

Jordan Bennett, a Mi'kmaq artist from Newfoundland and Labrador, has pieces in Boarder X.

His brightly-painted yellow cedar carvings explore the histories of the Mi'kmaq and Beothuk peoples and Bennett's experience of the land he grew up in through skateboarding and longboarding.

Jordan Bennett is a Mi'kmaq artist from Newfoundland and Labrador with work in the Boarder X exhibit. (CBC)

"One of the pieces I have here, Guidelines: the Basket Ladies, is about talking to my relatives, talking to my great-aunt and great-uncle, and hearing stories from community and relating that to who I am as an Indigenous person and who I am as a Mi'kmaq man," he said.

"Times have changed and as Indigenous people, we change as well, our customs, our traditions. We create new customs and new traditions to adapt to our everyday."

Bennett called the new exhibit "monumental."

"To have this open to the community so people can come through and experience it, it's going to be unreal," he said.

The Boarder X exhibit and Vernon Ah Kee: Cantchant open to the public on Saturday, and will remain open until spring 2017. The public can attend a skateboard showcase on Friday night from 7 to 10 p.m.