Lawrence Paul Yuxweluptun, of Coast Salish and Okanagan descent, creates art that confronts the colonialist suppression of First Nations peoples and the ongoing struggle for Indigenous rights to lands, resources, and sovereignty. His exhibit called “Unceded Territories” runs at The Museum of Anthropology (MOA) from May 10 – October 16, 2016 October. Yuxweluptun’s art boldly and effectively explores themes of colonialism and unpacks what the term ‘unceded territory’ really means.
Last week, I went to see the exhibit at MOA to get deeper insight to how Lawrence Paul Yuxweluptun uses his art to spark important conversation about Indigenous rights to this land. I wondered how having the exhibit on campus could shape UBC into a more aware, thoughtful, educated student body in the lens of the environmental and indigenous issues Yuxweluptun discusses through art.
I found his work to be so overwhelmingly colourful, bright, honest and stark. My stomach was in knots because I was so elated and moved by the messages of loss, tragedy and unfairness that Indigenous Communities faced and still face in Canada. I felt uncomfortable in the best way art can make you as I saw paintings of local, white politicians (Christie Clark) wearing masks purposefully representing them as untrustworthy or evil and a cross made of underwear representing the abused children in Canadian Residential Schools. It got me thinking: How can I learn more about Aboriginal histories and communities on this unceded territories where I go to school, on unceded territory that I call home?
(Portrait Of A Residential School Girl, 2013)
I asked Karen Duffek at MOA who is the curator of the exhibit a few questions to learn more about the artist and his exhibit:
What is it that moves you about Lawrence Paul Yuxweluptun’s art?
It’s bold and in-your-face in how it puts forward LPY’s concerns about environmental degradation, its inseparability from Indigenous land rights and freedom of self-determination, and his own freedoms to define his art and Indigeneity. It clearly puts Northwest Coast art into political history, and records the history that LPY is witnessing right now. It also affirms Indigenous (particularly Coast Salish) ways of knowing the land as animated and sentient. I like the scale and bold colours of his painting as well—a kind of monumentalism through which LPY puts his art and ideas in relation to Western and global art histories.
How has the exhibit been received by the UBC and Vancouver community?
We had a record-breaking MOA opening with over 2000 people attending, which was pretty phenomenal. It was exciting to see a really diverse range of people there, whether in age or cultural background, etc. People are excited about the show. It is extremely timely. For people in BC, especially, the themes that LPY addresses are top of mind for many people. We have all been exposed to some degree over the past few years to learning about the legacy of Indian residential schools in Canada, to the concerns of the Idle No More movement, to issues of fracking and oil pipelines and climate change.
People are coming to see the show for a range of reasons: they are interested in LPY’s painting, in his outspokenness, in hearing from/seeing the expressions of a recognized Indigenous artist, and in seeing the relationship of art and activism. We have also had some great programming to go with the exhibition, such as a series ca
lled “Not Your Average Tours,” which brought some amazing speakers like the Indigenous lawyer and activist, Caleb Behn, to speak about their work in relation to what they see in LPY’s art. These talks have attracted lots of people as well, who are interested in learning about different ways of engaging with LPY’s art.
How do you think UBC students can contribute to the important and difficult conversation sparked by this exhibit regarding colonialism and the ongoing struggle for indigenous rights in our country?
One of the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission is for people to educate themselves—to take it upon themselves to learn about our nation’s history and relationships with Indigenous people, to build their knowledge by listening to Aboriginal people, and to share their understanding with others. I think that is an important guideline for all of us at UBC. We have some great resources here to help us do that, including UBC’s “Indigenous Foundations” website, the First Nations House of Learning, the Museum of Anthropology, and, of course, this exhibition of LPY’s art.
In the Irving K Barber Library, there have been glass displays, signage, events and conferences throughout the month of June for “Aboriginal (Un)History Month.” The library has partnered with the Musqueam Indian Band, the UBC Centre for Teaching and Learning Technology and the Museum of Anthropology. I wanted to acquaint myself as a UBC student with what’s been going on, what that conversation looks like and how I can learn from Indigenous Communities here on campus and in the Greater Vancouver Area.
You may be wondering, what exactly is Aboriginal (Un)History Month?
According to the Musqueam People’s site, Aboriginal (Un)History Month celebrates First Nations creativity, scholarship, and intellectual traditions. It aims to educate, and cultivate conversations about relationship, representation, and recognition. The events, which include film screenings, discussions, lectures, exhibits and tours, introduce some of the dimensions of Aboriginal scholarship, and celebrate creative expression and pedagogy at UBC Vancouver and beyond.
The displays in the Irving K Barber Library elaborate and explain the different programs that occur to support and learn from Aboriginal Youth on campus and in our community. Some of these programs are:
Bridge Through Sport Program uses the power of sport to teach and empower Aboriginal youth. The program involves after-school sporting events such as soccer tournaments for elementary and high-school aged students.
The Summer Science Program gives Aboriginal Students a chance to meet First Nations role models studying at UBC and those working in science-related professions such as biology and occupational therapy and helps them to get a feel for UBC campus.
Ch’nook Indigenous Business Education is a mentorship program for Aboriginal youth from across British Columbia that show interest in pursuing post-secondary business studies.
CEDAR Science Program is a summer camp on campus for Aboriginal youth ages 8-12 where the participants learn more about UBC faculty and student’s research and passions in the scientific fields while also enjoying arts, crafts and sports and team-building activities.
The Native Youth Program at the Museum of Anthropology is a leadership opportunity for six urban Aboriginal youth between ages 15-18. These students learn about working in a museum through helping with tours, performing research and presentations alongside the MOA staff.
I write and go to school and work every day on the unceded territory of the
Musqueam, Tsleil-Waututh & Skohomish People.
We may celebrate Aboriginal Un(History) Month in June and it may be almost over, the exhibit at MOA may be running only during the summer and fall, but the conversation doesn’t end. Through these exhibits and resources at the Irving K Barber Library and The Museum of Anthropology, all of us here at UBC can wholeheartedly learn and listen from our Aboriginal community members and apply their message stories every day of the year.
To learn more about the Lawrence Paul exhibit, visit MOA’s site: Admission is free for UBC students!