Neo-Native Drawings and Other Works featured three decades of drawings extending from 1980 to 2009. In addition, the most recent tree studies (2004 – 2009), as well as ovoid portraits (2002 – 2005), figurative works (1985 to 2009), etchings (1993 – 2009), watercolours (1980 – 1993), and a number of sketchbooks configured the first exhibition to focus on Yuxweluptun’s works on paper. Yuxweluptun refers to his drawings as “preliminary studies” serving as “background work” and the “measuring-stick” for developing the forms and ideas that have come to identify his style and distinguish his pictorial inventiveness.
Many of the drawings were untitled. The drawings with titles were studies for paintings, and using this reference the viewer gained entry into Yuxweluptun’s shape-shifting revisiting of modernism and the two-dimensional art form of the Northwest Coast. Coupled with a formal openness towards abstracting terms of figurative representation is the inclusion of Coast Salish cosmology. Among these works were the study for The Universe is So Big the White Man Keeps Me on My Reservation (1987), collection of the Canadian Museum of Civilization; the study for Dancing in the Dark Invisible to Mortal Eyes (1987), collection of the Volkerkundemuseum der Universitat, Zurich; the study for The Protector (1990), collection of Vancouver Art Gallery; Shamans Coming to Help (For Kenny Moses) (1987) is the study for Scorched Earth, Clear-Cut Logging on Native Sovereign Land: Shaman Coming to Fix (1991), collection of the National Gallery of Canada; Spirit (1991) is the study for Night in a Salish Longhouse (1991), private collection; and the study for Guardian Spirit Salmon Women (2009), private collection.
These figurative works visualize the conditions of incomplete decolonization within which indigenous peoples and their lands are situated; the Indian Act providing the most poignant example. For it is the struggles over sovereignty for First Nations, which have been confounded by diverse histories within which cartographically imbedded colonial powers inscribe increasing levels of administration that separate the native presence on the land from resources, ancestral terms of land ownership and stewardship of the environment. For the untouched nature in 1778 that was visible to the crew of Captain Cook was already a fully social and politically functioning landscape.
The untitled tree studies that were Yuxweluptun’s most recent works advanced an understanding of cultural presence and identity. The most intense, mediated and internationalized conflicts in British Columbia have surrounded the region’s rainforest. These series of trees rightly place an indigenous presence, which is often left out, within the contested ground situated between industry and environmentalism. Histories of art, historical and contemporary, contain visual reminisces on the solitary tree from symbolized abstraction in the work of Emily Carr and A.Y Jackson to allegorical placement in the works of Jeff Wall and Rodney Graham, among others. Yuxweluptun’s studies, where trees, singular and in pairs, decolonize histories of seeing the land as pictorial records of nature, and position through the use of exuberant figurations of fine detail, an ascendancy and omnipresence of an indigenous sense of place and inherent rights. Their strong vertical presence also retains an inescapable coupling with Yuxweluptuns’s earlier landscape drawings and etchings of the 1990s, which reveal mournful clear-cut forests, the land imperiled and laid to waste.
The ovoid portraits produced between 2003 and 2005 displace the grand narratives of early modern European portraiture. The idiosyncratic form of these portraits each consolidate their meaning through an ovoid fused with hybrid features, to portray for example, a priest, an amateur athlete, a family, or an image alluding to a friend.
Yuweluptun’s drawings are inestimable and various in their role of providing observations of contemporary British Columbia, the juridical, political and geographical space, which is part of the nation-state, and display a temporal recognition of conditions where confrontation and denial continues to take place. As Yuxweluptun’s “measuring-stick” turns to the abstractions of modernism as well as the compositional forms of the Northwest Coast, he displaces artistic representational practices, and nature no longer appears in an absence of indigenous culture; a cultural landscape is presented to the viewer. Indigenous peoples bring forth representational form and meaning as they walk on the land. Yuxweluptun refers to his art as a “discourse.” Art, politics and spirituality are brought together; in this way, an indigenous cultural landscape becomes known, if not fully understood.
Petra Watson, curator
This teacher’s guide is designed to support teachers who wish to carry out lessons related to the genre of Portraiture and the exhibition Lawrence Paul Yuxweluptun: Neo-Native Drawings and Other Work in their classrooms.
Are you a teacher looking to further educate your class about one of our exhibitions? Or, maybe you are planning a field trip and would like some further guidance.
Teachers’ Guides support educators who wish to visit the CAG with their students or who wish to carry out lessons related to CAG exhibitions in their classrooms. They include artist biographies, thematic exhibition overviews, suggested points of discussion, as well as recommended readings and references.
Lesson Plans are designed to bring the resources of contemporary art and artists to diverse classrooms. It is our goal to introduce students of all ages to the richness that engaging with contemporary art brings. Such breadth and diversity show that it can be used as a meaningful springboard in teaching a variety of subjects. Please feel free to adapt lessons to suit the specific needs of your class and curriculum.MORE