Toward Decolonization: Examining histories and futures for the Fraser Valley at The Reach Gallery Museum

Art, Commentary, Community, State of the Arts

campion-shields-the-royal-engineer-20162017 will be an exciting year across Canada as the country celebrates the 150th Anniversary of Confederation. Our history as a nation has been fraught with the complexities inherent to colonial activity. For this reason, The Reach Gallery Museum is using this important opportunity to reflect on Canada’s 150th year with exhibitions and programming that will address concepts of decolonization and re/conciliation.

In the words of Justice Murray Sinclair: “Reconciliation is not an Aboriginal problem, it is a Canadian problem. It involves all of us.” Using The Reach’s identity as a Gallery Museum, many of its upcoming exhibitions will combine artistic and historical content to address the legacy of colonialism in the Fraser Valley. Projects by both settler and Indigenous contributors come together to consider the myths of civilization and progress that underpin Canadian identity, suggesting that the destructive impacts of our shared colonial heritage must be assessed through a closer examination of institutions and ideologies that inform our history.

In the 2017 Winter/Spring season, four significant exhibitions will consider the framing of colonial history, and address cultural continuity in Indigenous communities. These projects are rooted specifically in the Stó:lō territory now known as the Fraser Valley.

The Reach is honoured to host Sq’éwlets: A Stó:lo-Coast Salish Community in the Fraser River Valley, an exhibition that marks the launch of a significant Virtual Museum of Canada online experience by the same name. The online project is the culmination of a major interdisciplinary, cross-cultural collaboration. The project team writes: “Our project at Sq’e´wlets is the work of community leaders, anthropologists, historians, media specialists, and other content experts. It stems from a collaborative relationship formed 25 years ago between Chief Clarence Pennier of Sq’e´wlets, Archaeology Professor Michael Blake of UBC, and researchers at Sto´:lo Nation. Based on several decades of community-based archaeology, oral history, and ethnohistorical work, and the recent production of short video documentaries, the website … presents a long-term perspective of what it means to be a Sq’e´wlets person and community member today.” The exhibition will bring together a large-scale photographic installation, a documentary video screening space, and installation elements representing ancestral history and present day community to highlight Sq’éwlets’ perspectives on self-representation and ownership of cultural heritage.

In Grand Theft Terra Firma, settler artists David Campion and Sandra Shields appropriate the visual language of digital gaming to reframe the colonial settlement of Canada as a complex heist masterminded by criminals in London and played out on the ground by a gang of thieves. Combining photography, installation, and performance, the work utilizes gaming and humor to tackle settler responsibility and contest the celebratory versions of colonial history. Large-scale photographic portraits of game characters—archetypes like The Royal Engineer, The Pioneer and The Whiskey Trader—subvert our understanding of their role in the conquest of new lands and point to the ubiquity of these archetypes in the narrative of Canadian history. A series of photographs mimicking “screen shots” represent decisive game play moments for the characters, which are also key moments in local history. Achieved in collaboration with members of Stó:lō Nation, these photos portray the perpetrators in period costume while Indigenous people wear contemporary clothes, emphasizing the impact of past events on present-day communities. Installation elements, like a reproduction of the backdrop used by an early Fraser Valley photographer that appears in the game character portraits, connect the photographic works to the gallery. Blending fictional characters with elements drawn from historical record, the artists create an ambiguous space where audiences are askec-l-victor-tsusqun-2016d to consider their own relationship to colonial practices.
Emerging Coast Salish artist Carrielynn Victor will present Poison, Pattern, Paradigm. The artist has created this new body of work utilizing traditional formal elements from Stó:lō culture—the crescent, the trigon, and the chevron— in a series of vibrant paintings that recount aspects of Stó:lō stories and worldview, while simultaneously drawing from her lived experience and our collective immersion in popular culture. Victor is an artist, fisher, plant harvester and medicines practitioner whose work fuses ancestral knowledge and a deep connection to her culture with contemporary techniques and styles. Her practice considers gender and sexuality, community, interconnectedness, land, and sustainability. Victor has been active as an artist for over a decade, and this exhibition will be the first solo presentation of her work.

Lyndl Hall’s Stretchers, Headers & Footnotes examines the role of the red brick building in colonial expansion. Hall’s research is based on two case studies: the Clayburn/Kilgard brickworks of the Fraser Valley, and the City Hall in Pietermaritzburg, KwaZulu Natal, South Africa, the largest red brick building in the southern hemisphere. These disparate sites mirror the establishment of British rule through industry, bureaucracy, and architecture. Brick is both a literal and figurative building block for an empire fashioned out of the clay of foreign lands. The exhibition consists of a series of drawings, a book work, and installation elements that consider the materials that document and stand for the processes of colonization. Like Grand Theft Terra Firma, historical documents are the groundwork for artistic expression and underscore The Reach’s function as both an art gallery and museum. Hall’s works draw heavily on the Archives of the Reach Gallery Museum as well as the Pietermaritzburg Archives.

We invite all members of our community to join us for these exhibitions, opening January 26 and running until May 7, 2017. The projects offer an exciting glimpse of the important work being done by artists, scholars, and community members in the region to reconsider settler and Indigenous relationships. The Reach is proud to begin the next 150 years of our history as a nation with exhibitions that attempt to further the conversation about how we can actively participate in decolonization as individuals and as a community.

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