Bill Reid Gallery of Northwest Coast Art presents the Western Canadian premiere of Indigenous History in Colour from February 3, 2021–May 9, 2021. This solo exhibition by Luke Parnell is a powerful exploration of the relationship between Northwest Coast Indigenous oral histories, conceptual art, and traditional form line design. Indigenous History in Colour’s multidisciplinary analysis of the shifting perspectives of Northwest Coast art in modern history challenges contemporary discourse on notions of reconciliation and representation today.
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“Indigenous History in Colour invites audiences to engage with the vibrant and dynamic qualities of Indigenous art, while also looking beyond the surface of popularized perspectives,” says Beth Carter, curator of the Bill Reid Gallery. “Inspired by oral traditions, history, pop culture, and Bill Reid, Parnell’s playful juxtapositions and bold commentary shine a spotlight on the work still needed to bring about authentic reconciliation for Indigenous peoples.” Parnell also comments: “Research and exploration have become the basis of my artistic practice. In order to understand histories and concepts, in order to explore emotion and contemporary events, I create artworks. My artwork asks questions but never answers them.”
First shown at MKG127 Gallery in Toronto in July 2020, Indigenous History in Colour centres on the concept of transformation, both as it relates to Indigenous storytelling traditions as well as changing interpretations of Northwest Coast art over time. The West Coast premiere will feature two new large works, eight paintings, and a short film and accompanying totem pole — the latter works added to the exhibition for Parnell’s Bill Reid Gallery debut.
Bear Mother (2019) is a vivid digital print that explores an ancient Indigenous narrative through the lens of pop culture, colour theory, and a striking collage effect. First developed as a digital sketch for Instagram to commemorate National Indigenous Peoples Day, Parnell transformed the piece into a large-scale inkjet print.
The largest work in the exhibition, Neon Reconciliation Explosion (2020), is a collaborative installation that both embraces and questions reconciliation. Parnell created a Northwest Coast housefront with a large butterfly design in Nisga’a style, which was then divided into 44 panels. The squares were painted by 55 community members with bright neon colours, in reflection of their own personal understanding of reconciliation. Parnell’s own panel stands out in contrast – a bare, hollow doorway with carvings of the initials CB and TF, in memory of the lost lives of Colten Boushie and Tina Fontaine.
Re-Contextualizing the De-Consecrated (2014) is a series of seven paintings on loan from the Art Gallery of Ontario that presents a critical examination of the exhibition history of Northwest Coast Indigenous art in Canada. Each painting is inspired by a past exhibition and accompanied by an excerpt of exhibition text, subverting the traditional academic approach in favour of an artistic response. Much has changed between the Vancouver Art Gallery’s landmark exhibition Arts of the Raven in 1967 (co-curated by Bill Reid) and its 2012 exhibition Beat Nation, curated by and for Indigenous peoples.
Also on display is Parnell’s painting, The Transforming Image (2014), inspired by the influential publication of the same name by Bill McLennan and Karen Duffek, which explores historic Northwest Coast painted designs.
Parnell’s short film Remediation (2018) delves into the long-lasting implications of the removal of ancient totem poles from Haida Gwaii, as a critical response to a Bill Reid documentary produced in the 1950s. Parnell’s film is a cross-country journey carrying half of one of his own totems back to the coast, where it is then ceremonially burned. The ashes and the remaining half of the totem will also be on display.
A virtual opening celebration, featuring Parnell and Carter in conversation, will be hosted via Facebook Live on Tuesday, February 2, 2021 at 6pm PST. For full details, visit billreidgallery.ca.