INDIAN ACTS: Truths in the Age of Reconciliation

 Curated by: Dr. Gerald McMaster
Artwork by: Sonny Assu, Nicholas Galanin, and Geronimo Inutiq (madeskimo)

 On View: May 28 to July 23

 Curatorial Statement:
Three Indigenous Artists Making the Past Relevant in the Present Tense

“The federal legislation that dictated the lives of Indigenous peoples in Canada — and, to some extent, those in the United States — was, for all intents and purposes, a form of cultural annihilation. At the same time, the recent report of Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission makes it clear that Canadian society remained surprisingly oblivious when it came to the nihilistic authority enshrined in the Indian Act. Confoundingly, despite the fact that the Act was essentially an existential threat to Indigenous peoples, its tangential impact currently is being addressed in art. In this exhibition, three young artists — Sonny Assu, Nicholas Galanin, and Geronimo Inutiq (madeskimo) — explore a legacy that continues to reverberate among Indigenous peoples, both individually and collectively.”

  Sonny Assu,  Billy and the Chiefs: Potlatch House #1, #2, #3  (triptych), acrylic on elk-hide, wood, 12” diameter, 2013

Sonny Assu, Billy and the Chiefs: Potlatch House #1, #2, #3 (triptych), acrylic on elk-hide, wood, 12” diameter, 2013

“Sonny Assu takes dominating forms that may appear restrictive to some, and politicizes them. His Billy and the Chiefs, for example, might sound like a small-town rock band, but the title actually refers to Assu’s great-great-grandfather, who lived through the ban on all Indigenous cultural activities. The painted drums in Billy and the Chiefs evoke the artistic and cultural freedoms we now take for granted, while recalling the frustrating presence of an authority that denied self-determination. Similarly, Assu’s colourfully painted and shaped canvases, such as Idlenomore or Digitalnative, recall the Chilkat blankets of the Tlingit, Tsimshian, and Haida of the West Coast, which traditionally feature intricate patterns declaring familial heritage.”

  Nicholas Galanin,  S'igeika'awu: Ghost , ceramic and horse hair, 2009

Nicholas Galanin, S'igeika'awu: Ghost, ceramic and horse hair, 2009

“The inclusion of Alaskan artist Nicholas Galanin in this exhibition may appear odd at first, given the nature of Canada’s Indigenous body politic. It should not be forgotten, however, that political borders slice directly through, and thus disregard, Indigenous territorial integrity. As such, Galanin remains firmly connected to the peoples of the Northwest Coast. In his videos, he explores what it is like to recapture — to repatriate — dances, songs, and artifacts that have been stolen. Works such as S’igeika’awu: Ghost counteract the colonial influence of a dominant culture that remorselessly obliterated cultural traditions and context — fetishizing masks, for example, as lifeless artifacts unavailable for use in ceremonies. Kill the Indian, Save the Man is a series of photographs juxtaposed with transformed masks that are based on the assimilative practices endured by residential/boarding school children.”

  Geronimo Inutiq (madeskimo),  Edmonton Waterways & Type Amerindians , mix of film the Prelinger Archives & original digital video (still)

Geronimo Inutiq (madeskimo), Edmonton Waterways & Type Amerindians, mix of film the Prelinger Archives & original digital video (still)

“madeskimo is the alter ego of Geronimo Inutiq. Like Assu and Galanin, madeskimo’s art and identity reflect contemporary realities in which cultural dynamics become entangled with the artist’s persona. Through unexpected combinations of sound and images — as in works such as Edmonton Waterways & Type Amerindians and Voyage + Variations — madeskimo filters the Arctic environment through a surreal lens, combining text and the sounds of Hollywood, animals, and cracking ice with ever-changing vistas of land, sea, and sky.”

“Antonio Gramsci said, ‘To tell the truth is revolutionary.’ In these challenging and changing times, after hearing the heartrending stories of survivors of residential schools and other consequences of the Indian Act, we often turn to artists as our truth-telling revolutionaries. Through their work, we begin to understand the past for what it was, and what remained hidden from view; we see the present as a search for certainties; and we view the future with hope for the possibilities yet to come.” – Dr. Gerald McMaster (2016)


  Sonny Assu

Sonny Assu

Shedding light on the dark, hidden history that Canada continues to harbour towards the Indigenous peoples is a main driving force behind Sonny Assu’s work. He often uses humour as a way to ease the viewer in or out of the conversations he creates. The use of biographical components is Assu’s way of placing a human face on the contemporary and historical realities of being an Indigenous person in Canada. Within this, he deals with the loss of language, the loss of cultural resources, and the effects of colonization upon the Indigenous peoples of North America.

Assu uses painting, sculpture, large-scale installations, print, and photography as a way to challenge Western civilization’s consumption of culture through the introspection of our consumer-driven monolithic way of life.

Sonny Assu is Liǥwildaʼx̱w (We Wai Kai) of the Kwakwaka’wakw nations. He graduated from Emily Carr University (2002), and was the recipient of their distinguished alumni award in 2006. He received the BC Creative Achievement Award in First Nations art in 2011, and was long-listed for the Sobey Art Award in 2012, 2013, and 2015. Assu is an MFA candidate at Concordia University; currently he works and lives in Campbell River, BC.

Assu’s work is in the collections of the National Gallery of Canada, Seattle Art Museum, Vancouver Art Gallery, Museum of Anthropology at UBC, Burke Museum at the University of Washington, Hydro Quebec, Lotto Quebec, and in various other public and private collections across Canada, the United States, and the UK. Recently (May 6, 2016), the Canada Council Art Bank acquired Assu’s piece Selective History (2012) for its permanent collection.

  Nicholas Galanin

Nicholas Galanin

Culture cannot be contained as it unfolds. My art enters this stream at many different points, looking backwards, looking forwards, generating its own sound and motion. I am inspired by generations of Tlingit & Unangax̂ creativity and contribute to this wealthy conversation through active curiosity. There is no room in this exploration for the tired prescriptions of the "Indian Art World" and its institutions. Through creating I assert my freedom.

Concepts drive my medium. I draw upon a wide range of Indigenous technologies and global materials when exploring an idea. Adaptation and resistance, lies and exaggeration, dreams, memories and poetic views of daily life – these themes recur in my work, taking form through sound, texture, and image. Inert objects spring back to life; kitsch is reclaimed as cultural renewal; dancers merge ritual and rap. I am most comfortable not knowing what form my next idea will take, a boundless creative path of concept-based motion.

Born in Sitka, Alaska, Nicholas Galanin has struck an intriguing balance between his origins and the course of his practice. Having trained extensively in traditional as well as contemporary approaches to art, he pursues them both in parallel paths. His stunning bodies of work simultaneously preserve his culture and explore new perceptual territory. Galanin studied at the London Guildhall University, where he earned a Bachelor’s of Fine Arts with honors in Jewelry Design and Silversmithing, and at Massey University in New Zealand, he earned a Master’s degree in Indigenous Visual Arts. Valuing his culture as highly as his individuality, Galanin has created an unusual path for himself. He deftly navigates “the politics of cultural representation,” as he balances both ends of the aesthetic spectrum. With a fiercely independent spirit, Galanin has found the best of both worlds and has given them back to his audience in stunning form. The article “Nicholas Galanin Is Part of a Generation That Is Redefining ‘Native,’” by Erin Joyce for Hyperallergic provides a succinct introduction to Galanin’s work.

Both Sonny Assu and Nicholas Galanin currently are exhibiting work as part of the Contemporary Native Art Biennial in Montreal until June 26, which was recently reviewed by Rachel Elizabeth Jones in an article entitled “Art Review: Contemporary Native Art Biennial, Montréal” for the Vermont publication Seven Days.

  Geronimo Inutiq (madeskimo)

Geronimo Inutiq (madeskimo)

From sound, to still images and the moving picture, Geronimo Inutiq likes to explore alternate approaches to established constructs of traditional and popular culture and media.

Edmonton Waterways & Type Amerindians and Voyage + Variations are virtual trips through time and space, using digital video and computer treated archival film paired to a live electronic music performance, including remixed classical music.

Mars Attacks and Deluxe Sled are playful collages of photographs and digital images. Mars is a riff on the idea of the settler; and Sled is a traditional Inuit qamutik sled re-contextualized in a digital paint program.

Geronimo Inutiq is an accomplished artist specializing in electronic music production, deejaying, as well as digital image and video production. Having been exposed to strong traditional Inuit cultural elements in his youth, as well as the worlds of modern art and broadcast through close members of his kin, Inutiq has been able to weave those multiple reference points into his artistic practice in innovative ways. Guided by the notion that creative personal expression is a subjective and individual experience, he is interested in the dialogue that emerges between the individual and the increasingly large and complex interrelated circles of socially constructed systems of meaning.

His work has been featured and performed in the Museum of Civilization of Quebec; Beat Nation; transmediale and club transmediale festivals in Berlin; Material Experiments at ImagineNative 2015; as well as the ARCTICNOISE project.

Geronimo Inutiq’s work is also on view as part of the Contemporary Native Art Biennial until June 18.


  Dr. Gerald McMaster

Dr. Gerald McMaster

Writer, artist, and curator, Gerald McMaster is Canada Research Chair of Indigenous Visual Culture and Curatorial Practice at OCAD University. He previously worked at the Canadian Museum of Civilization, the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian, and the Art Gallery of Ontario. In all three institutions, he was responsible for advancing major reinstallations of their exhibitions.

He has also curated some important exhibitions of historical and contemporary Indigenous art, such as: Indigena (1992), Plains Indian Drawings (1996), Reservation X (1998), First American Art (2004), and New Tribe/New York (2005). More recently, he curated: Inuit Modern: The Samuel and Esther Sarick Collection for the Art Gallery of Ontario (2011), and Before and After the Horizon (2013). In 1995 he was Canadian Commissioner for the Edward Poitras exhibition at the Venice Biennale; and, in 2012 he was co-Artistic Director of the 18th Biennale of Sydney entitled all our relations.

Please note that madeskimo will be performing live at the opening reception on June 4. For more details, please visit our Facebook event page.


For additional information, or to inquire about this exhibition, preview opportunities, or general gallery questions, please contact us at info@katzmancontemporary.com.