Home Arts Action and activism amidst urban, aboriginal art

Action and activism amidst urban, aboriginal art

by Natalia Lara Diaz-Berrio November 19, 2013
Action and activism amidst urban, aboriginal art

It is a peculiar bodily experience to find yourself in a completely dark room which is otherwise illuminated with strobe lights and invaded with a disconcerting loud noise.

Since the early 1990s, hip hop has been a driving force of activism for urban Aboriginal youth in communities across the continent. SKEENA REECE, RAVEN: ON THE COLONIAL FLEET, 2010 Photo by Sebastien Kriete

The piece by sound and installation artist Raven Chacon is an empty mirrored room with a regular tempo beat prompted by lights, and is just one of the works of art offered at Beat Nation: Art, Hip Hop and Aboriginal Culture, the latest exhibit at the Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal.

Beat Nation started in a small art gallery in Vancouver and became so popular it turned into a touring show, traveling across Canada. The exhibition is showcasing art in various forms such as neon, house music, video, skateboards and dance.

Mark Lanctôt, curator in charge of the Montreal presentation of the exhibition explained that it is a “collection of contemporary aboriginal art [from Canada and the United States] with hip hop being the framing device. Hip hop has a way of mixing and remixing and so does aboriginal culture with things from urban, mainstream and European culture.”

Some of the artists exhibiting in the show are Jackson 2bears, KC Adams, Sonny Assu, Jordan Bennett, Raymond Boisjoly and Kent Monkman.

“It is a refreshing phenomenon to see how they reinterpret — ingeniously — clichés about themselves,” said Lanctôt.

Some of the issues addressed are: identity, stereotypes, language preservation, landscape, nation, and street art.

On display at the exhibit is Bear Witness’ “Assimilate This!,” a video piece where the artist mixes together scenes from well known movies in which commonplace Aboriginal people are shown within a soundscape of electronic music. In the work, stereotyped movie characters converge in a casual or even playful way because  “Bear Witness does not propose a pedantic critique of ‘white man’s’ vision of the ‘red man,’ but an iconoclastic reclamation and recontextualisation of Aboriginal imagery,” explains the curatorial comments.

Other works have an enchanting balance between man and technology. For example, singing mixed with electronic music or electroacoustic elements, handcrafts or ancestral techniques, such as beading, interpolated with materials such as plastic, vinyl or metal.

Beat Nation rejects the idea that aboriginal art is static and aims to promote and celebrate it. This touring exhibit’s timing coincides with emerging issues related to First Nation peoples in Canada such as the actions of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, the controversies surrounding resource exploitation and the Idle No More movement. In fact, issues brought up by Idle No More are directly incorporated in some of the works of the artists in the exhibition.

The show is dynamic and interesting, while simultaneously presenting outstanding critical questions about Native people and inviting viewers to interact in a new and inclusive way.

“It is a first step towards paying closer attention to native art,” Lanctôt said, and added that he wishes that they will “bring people towards a new understanding of the current state of aboriginal culture through its contemporary art.”

As part of Beat Nation, two mediated conferences with artists madeskimo, Dylan Miner, Marianne Nicolson will be held on Dec. 5 entitled The Culture Makers: Conversations on Art and Cultural Adaptation, dealing with the exchanges between traditions and the contemporary art.

Beat Nation: Art, Hip Hop and Aboriginal Culture runs until Jan. 5, 2014 at the Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal. For more information, visit macm.org 

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