In 1885, the government of the Dominion of Canada initiated its now infamous potlatch ban. The legislation forbade the practice of such indigenous customs as the potlatch. (The legislation lasted until 1951.)
Prior to the ban, the art of tattooing and piercing was integral to Northwest Indigenous ceremony and social rank. Today, these traditions are re-emerging not only as decoration, but also to provide healing, protection and a meaningful sense of belonging.
The Bill Reid Gallery of Northwest Coast Art (639 Hornby St.) celebrates its 10th anniversary with a new exhibit honouring contemporary artist’s work in these traditions. Body Language: Reawakening Cultural Tattooing of the Northwest features five Northwest Indigenous tattoo artists. The work is on display June 8-Jan 13, 2019.
Find out more about the artists below.
Nakkita Trimble (Nisga’a)—Born and raised in Prince Rupert, BC, Trimble began her tattoo career in 2012. Trimble has worked with Nisga’a Elders and undertaken research to learn about and identify the significance of traditional Nisga’a tattoos.
Nahaan (Tlingit)—A carver, painter and designer, Nahann emulates the visual storytelling crafts that are dear to his people of Southeast Alaska. Nahaan focuses on working within the spirit and design style of Northern formline. He is also a spoken-word poet.
Corey Bulpitt (Haida)—The great-great-grandson of renowned artists Charles Edenshaaw and Louis Collison, Bulpitt is known internationally for his fusion of hip-hop culture and Haida traditional style in large-scale spray painted pieces. He works with wood, argillite, gold, silver, glass, textiles, spray paint, and traditional Kiida (hand-poke) tattooing.
Dean Hunt (Heiltsuk)—Under apprenticeship with his father and older brother, Hunt learned the skills of Heiltsuk carving and design. He uses the tools of his ancestors not only in his more traditional art practices, but also in his contemporary use of sound.
Dion Kaszas (Nlaka’pamux)—Guest curator Dion Kaszas (Nlaka’pamux, Hungarian, Métis) has helped spearhead the revival of tattooing in the Northwest of North America. He recently received his Masters degree in Indigenous Studies at the University of British Columbia Okanagan and co-founded the Earthline Tattoo Collective. The Collective’s mandate is “to enhance, expand, and support the work of traditional and cultural Indigenous tattoo practices,” according to the media release.
Besides the exhbit, special events include:
Stitching Ourselves Back Together Symposium (Friday, June 8, 9:30 a.m.-4 p.m.)—A full day exploring the history, revival and contemporary concerns around cultural tattooing. Registration required. Lunch included.
Live Tattooing in the Gallery (Saturday, June 9, 11 a.m.-4 p.m.)—Artists from the exhibition will demonstrate their techniques and chat about their process.
For more info visit billreidgallery.ca.