[Series] Meet the 2016 Vancouver Book Award Finalists – Lawrence Paul Yuxweluptun, Karen Duffek and Tania Willard


lawrence-paul-yuxweluptunLawrence Paul Yuxweluptun, an artist of Coast Salish and Okanagan descent, graduated from the Emily Carr College of Art and Design in BC. Influential as both artist and activist, Yuxweluptun merges traditional iconography with representations of the environment and the history of colonization, resulting in his powerful, contemporary imagery; his work is replete with masked fish farmers, super-predator oil barons, abstracted ovoids, and unforgettable depictions of a spirit-filled, but now toxic, natural world. Highly respected locally, Yuxweluptun’s work has also been displayed in numerous international group and solo exhibitions, including the National Gallery of Canada’s special exhibition, Sakahàn: International Indigenous Art. In 1998, Yuxweluptun was the recipient of the Vancouver Institute for the Visual Arts (VIVA) Award. He was also honoured in 2013 with a prestigious Fellowship at the Eitelijorg Musem of American Indians and Western Art in Indianapolis, where his art was featured in an exhibition and book, and was acquired for the museum’s permanent collection.

You can connect with Lawrence at: http://lawrencepaulyuxweluptun.com/


karen-duffek2Karen Duffek is the Curator of Contemporary Visual Arts & Pacific Northwest at the University of British Columbia Museum of Anthropology (MOA). Her research focuses on MOA’s Northwest Coast Aboriginal collections and the relationship of twentieth-century and contemporary art to cultural practice. Among her exhibitions are Projections: The Paintings of Henry Speck, Udziʹstalis (co-curated with Marcia Crosby, 2012), Peter Morin’s Museum (with Peter Morin, 2011), Border Zones: New Art Across Cultures (2010), Robert Davidson: The Abstract Edge (2004–2007), and Beyond History (with Tom Hill, 1989). Duffek’s books include Bill Reid and Beyond: Expanding on Modern Native Art (co-edited with Charlotte Townsend-Gault, 2004) and The Transforming Image: Painted Arts of Northwest Coast First Nations (co-authored with Bill McLennan, 2000).

You can connect with Karen at: http://moa.ubc.ca/curatorial/


tania-willard2Tania Willard, of the Secwepemc Nation, is an artist and independent curator. She has served as curator-in-residence at the grunt gallery (2008) and the Kamloops Art Gallery (2014–2015), and as artist-in-residence with Gallery Gachet in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. Willard co-curated Beat Nation: Art, Hip Hop and Aboriginal Culture with Kathleen Ritter for the Vancouver Art Gallery (2012), an exhibition that toured throughout Turtle Island (Canada). Willard’s creative work is concerned with intersections between Aboriginal and other cultures. Her most recent public art commission, Rule of the Trees, will be installed in 2016 at the Commercial and Broadway SkyTrain station in Vancouver. Currently working through the conceptual space of BUSH Gallery, she is curating land-based works in her home territory of Secwepemculecw.

You can connect with Tania at: http://www.taniawillard.ca/

Lawrence Paul Yuxweluptun: Unceded Territories

Lawrence Paul Yuxweluptun, Karen Duffek and Tania Willard, Figure 1 Publishing (@Figure1Pub) and Museum of Anthropology at UBC  (@MOA_UBC)

Questions answered by Karen Duffek and Tania Willard

Q. Lawrence Paul Yuxweluptun: Unceded Territories is an important book for many to read across Canada, but can you tell us why it might be particularly relevant for those living in the unceded territories of Vancouver?

A. The City of Vancouver made a strong commitment in 2014 to the goals of the Truth and Reconciliation commission, and has publicly acknowledged that the city is founded on unceded Coast Salish territories. The book gives voice to the sustained painting and political practice of Vancouver artist Lawrence Paul Yuxweluptun, whose work is steeped in Indigenous values, philosophy, and rights as embedded in the landscape. This position, and its articulation in the book through the artist’s and other voices, is especially important for BC, which is largely a non-treaty province.

We have been finding that readers of the book, and the thousands of visitors to the exhibition, are hungry to learn more about the history of this land and the experiences and visions of contemporary Aboriginal people. Indigenous land rights in BC have been proven over and over in the court system. The reality that Vancouver’s citizens and residents live on unceded territories is no longer an abstract idea for many people, because the voices of Aboriginal people are beginning to be heard loud and clear through art, politics, public ceremony, the Idle No More movement, the TRC, and environmental issues like the twinning of the Kinder Morgan pipeline, with its potentially devastating impact on this city.  

This book allows us all to enter into the ‘free state of mind zone’ that Yuxweluptun claims through his art, and to imagine a future wherein we face historical injustices and find ways to re-indigenize territories, languages, culture, and lands.

Q. How did editing this book work in relationship with the exhibition Lawrence Paul Yuxweluptun: Unceded Territories at the Museum of Anthropology at UBC?

A. Creating the book paralleled the planning of the exhibition, as we needed to work with the artist to discuss the selection of works to feature, organize loans and photography, connect with the other writers and work with them to discuss their approaches, etc. The book of course offers a much deeper level of analysis of Yuxweluptun’s practice than can be offered in exhibition labels, and it gives viewers of the exhibition access to our curatorial discussion, the artist’s own words, and the analyses offered by the various writers. It was an enormous learning process, as is any exhibition and publication.

We knew that, together with the writers Glenn Alteen, Marcia Crosby, Jimmie Durham, Larry Grant, Lucy R. Lippard, and Michael Turner, we were producing the most significant publication to date on Yuxweluptun’s work, and we were very happy that we were able to include full-colour images of all the works in the show, plus more. The book also publishes Yuxweluptun’s fullest statement to date, which demonstrates his fierce stand on Indigenous rights and generously shares something of his teachings, beliefs, and experiences.

Q. Can you tell us more about the origins of the exhibition and the process of development?

A. MOA has been planning this exhibition for a number of years (exhibition development usually takes 3 years at least), and we were heartened by Lawrence Paul’s enthusiasm. We knew that a new and serious look at his work was timely and important, for the artist, the institution, and the local and international visitors we receive. Lawrence has now been painting for about 40 years, and he is an influential figure in contemporary art and in raising public awareness of the issues at the heart of his work.

As Curator of Contemporary Visual Arts here at MOA, Karen Duffek wanted to co-curate and co-write the book with an Indigenous curator/scholar who would bring important insights to the project from its very beginning, and that person was Tania Willard. We chose to present our individual voices in dialogue in the book to bring forward in a way that would reflect our subject positions and show how the process of learning about and considering the art was one of dialogue and debate and learning. This is also reflected in the exhibit, for which the intense period of planning followed the production of the book manuscript (since the book’s deadline was much earlier).

Together with Yuxweluptun we decided to focus the project on works held in local private and institutional collections, including his own studio, because significant works are right here in Vancouver. We also borrowed major works from the collection of the National Gallery of Canada. We received financial support for the exhibition from the Canada Council, and for the publication from private donors and the CC. 

Q. Yuxweluptun’s work challenges the colonial perspective. How did this affect your approach to the exhibition and the book in relationship to the Museum of Anthropology? And how does this exhibition demarcate the current Museum of Anthropology’s mission?

A. MOA’s exhibition mandate includes, and has long included, exhibitions that focus attention on and advocate for social issues and threats to cultural diversity and expression; as well, we have long been focusing on exhibitions of contemporary arts that feature diverse media and that examine how contemporary arts can provoke questions and debates on issues central to a museum of anthropology. Yuxweluptun has often joked about having to “pry the anthropologists off my leg,” a reference to the long-held, and now hopefully put to rest, conventional categorizations of Indigenous peoples and their arts are properly located in the institutions of anthropology rather than institutions of Western and “high” Asian arts. The point is that Indigenous artists have long been subject to the external validating procedures of the dominating society, whether anthropology museums or art galleries or universities or art markets or governments. None are free of colonial histories, and all have been led by Indigenous artists and community members toward challenging their own discourses and working collaboratively for change.

Yuxweluptun offers ways in which we might think differently and centre Indigenous lands and rights inside and beyond all these institutions, and how we can and must do this together for the sake of the world. And we wanted to create an exhibit and book that did not ignore the context of MOA and its histories and First Nations community relationships. As Tania writes in the book, “Showing Lawrence Paul’s work at the MOA at this time is not a complete resolution, but it is a statement: a way for him to speak to an audience, an institution, a collection, a past, and his very own ancestors. There is medicine and spirit in this place… Together we can feed these ancestors in order to make our future.”

Q. When does the Lawrence Paul Yuxweluptun: Unceded Territories exhibition close at the Museum of Anthropology, and does Lawrence Paul Yuxweluptun or the museum have any upcoming related events that we can help promote in 2016?

A. The exhibition closes on Sunday, October 16th. Lawrence is giving his final artist’s talk that day, at 1:00 pm, at MOA. There may be an additional talk scheduled in the meantime, so look at the MOA website for any updates. Also, we have an active program of public events starting next week: a symposium on Indigenous rights and global responsibilities, and a series of films on the theme of political cinema. Please see the MOA website for details on these exciting programs: http://moa.ubc.ca/programs/. There are also public tours of the exhibition regularly scheduled during the week: http://moa.ubc.ca/portfolio_page/daily-tours/. 

Image - BookAward-290x160The City of Vancouver Book Award
features an eclectic shortlist in 2016 that includes a non-fiction memoir, a poetry anthology and an art exhibition catalogue. This remarkably diverse set of books explores complicated visions of a city grappling with its past and striving for a better future. View the 2016 finalists. The winner of the 2016 Vancouver Book Award will be announced at the awards ceremony on October 3, 2016.

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