Coming out of the darkness



September brings with it a host of novel adventures, each more interesting than the last. And so it goes with the recent onslaught of Swarm openings, the two-day festival of artist-run exhibitions, though one of these stood out from the rest.

Found on Granville Island, Malaspina Printmakers Society is usually the place to go for the finest in contemporary printmaking. But during the month of September, avant-garde silkscreens and woodcuts gave way to a flurry of responsive works by First Nations artists.

NET-ETH: Going out of the Darkness, co-curated by Rose M. Spahan and Tarah Hogue, coincided with the National Conference hosted by the Truth and Reconciliation Council of Canada, which ran from Sept. 18 to 21.

In some cases, the work that was presented brought to light the government’s assimilation policies inherent in the boarding school system that was put into place in the 1870s, with the help from then-existing missionary schools.

Chris Bose is a multi-disciplinary artist — and member of the Nlaka’pamux / Secwepemc Nation — who presented three digital images that combined historic photographs with symbolic references to the abuses that took place within this mandatory institutional framework.

 Two mounties are shown with religious iconography, raging flames, skulls and the ever present Canadian dollar.

In one of these, The Only Good Indian… (2012), two mounties are shown with religious iconography, raging flames, skulls and the ever present Canadian dollar. This work attested to the complexity of the issues being addressed, while stating outright the resentment that is still felt amongst many modern-day First Nations communities.

Other artists took a more personal approach to the healing process. The series of works by Jada-Gabrielle Pape, for example, displayed a palpable sensitivity toward the community leaders that emerged from the Residential School system.

Here, the mixed media works on handmade paper combined similar imagery to that found in Bose’s work: old school photographs and Coast Salish symbolism, though the treatment and intent was quite different. Pape’s expressive pieces exuded a sense of vulnerability, paying tribute to the resilience of family and the Saanish and Snuneymuxw Nations.

The variety of approaches taken by the more than 20 contemporary and traditional First Nations artists were presented at three venues, including the concourse gallery of Emily Carr University of Art and Design, and the Urban Aboriginal Fair Trade Gallery at Skwachàys Healing Lodge, located in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.

NET-ETH, which ran through Sept. 29, brought together a congregation of art-lovers and visiting students, and was an integral part of a process of healing taking place this bustling fall season.