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UBC unveils major new Native art works.

Windspeaker Staff Writer


The first large-scale Coast Salish carvings to be commissioned for the University of British Columbia's Museum of Anthropology were unveiled at a ceremony on March 3. Jointly supported by the Musqueam Nation, Royal Bank and the museum, the new works by Musqueam artist Susan Point acknowledge the traditional territory of the Musqueam Nation on which the museum stands.

Visitors will find that the two house posts and a carved ancestor figure are not the traditional totem poles typically associated with large-scale West Coast Native art.

"Coast Salish art is relatively unknown to most people today as it was an almost lost art form after European contact," artist Point explained. "The reason being is that Salish lands were the first to be settled by the Europeans which adversely affected my people's traditional lifestyle."

The totem pole usually associated with the Pacific Northwest is from the tribes of northern British Columbia, such as the Haida. Point had to recover and, in some ways, rediscover the Coast Salish artistic roots for this project.

"I spent a great deal of my time, as a Coast Salish artist, trying to revive traditional Coast Salish art in an attempt to educate the public to the fact that there was and still is another art form indigenous to the central Pacific Northwest coast," she said. "Although most of my earlier work is very traditional, today I am experimenting with contemporary mediums and themes. However, I still incorporate my ancestral design elements into my work to keep it uniquely Salish.

"In creating my art, I feel a need to continually express my cultural background and beliefs yet, at the same time, my work continues to evolve with changes within and outside of my community," she continued. "Sometimes, I address issues of gender conditioning as well as social and economic conditions."

In an effort to incorporate traditional motifs in the three pieces commissioned for the museum, Point traveled to New York to see two 19th-century Musqueam house posts in the collection of the American Museum of Natural History. Decorated house posts were created as structural components of large winter houses, and served to mark the wealth and strength of a family.

"The Musqueam built long houses, not big houses," said Bill McLennan, project manager for the museum. "The house posts are internal images, displayed internally and more privately than totem poles and big house crests. They are more related to the ancestors and are images of personal inspiration."

McLennan explained that totem poles began to flourish after European contact, as they replaced family crests from big houses that were no longer required because of diminished populations. Musqueam house poles go back far past European contact.

"We're always working to create projects for contemporary First Nations artists to create bigger works of art," he said. "The other important issue for the museum was to bring some significant art here from the Musqueam. This was their land 10,000 years ago and for 10,000 years. It is important that we and people in general recognize the differing art of the different nations."

"This is Royal Bank's 100th year of doing business in B.C.," said Matt Vickers, senior manager for Aboriginal banking in B.C. and Yukon. "Having our First Nations communities aware of the Aboriginal program in Royal Bank is our goal, and we felt that this project would be a really excellent way of raising our profile."

Royal Bank donated $125,000 to the project, which is the lead gift in the museum's $600,000 capital campaign to repair and enhance the outdoor sculpture complex, which is widely considered to be the finest collection of its kind in the world. The complex features two Haida houses and 10 poles by some of the finest artists on the Northwest Coast.

The traditional ceremony to unveil the two house posts and the ninemetre ancestor figure featured performances by the Musqueam Warriors, a dance troupe featuring five generations of Musqueam members, and by artist Calvin Hunt, who danced in his spectacular thunderbird regalia to acknowledge Point's status as a carver.

Point was born in 1952 and lives in Vancouver.

Point initially worked in precious metals, serigraphs and acrylic paintings, but is now producing large-scale public art in glass, wood, stainless steel and concrete. Her work can be found in public and private collections in more than 20 countries.
COPYRIGHT 1997 Aboriginal Multi-Media Society of Alberta (AMMSA)
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1997 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Hayes, R. John
Publication:Wind Speaker
Date:Apr 1, 1997
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