Sakahàn: International Indigenous Art
National Gallery of Canada, 2013
A red plastic gasoline jug perforated with holes to create outlines of dragonflies, a work by Vancouver-based artist Brian Jungen, graces the catalogue cover for Sakahàn, an exhibition last summer at the National Gallery of Canada. Billed as the largest-ever global survey of contemporary indigenous art, Sakahàn (which translates loosely as “to light a fire” in the language of the Algonquin peoples) included some 150 works by more than 80 artists from 16 countries.
Along with artists familiar to Canadians, such as Rebecca Belmore, Annie Pootoogook and Lawrence Paul Yuxweluptun, the exhibition featured work by artists from places as varied as Mexico, Japan, India, Finland, New Zealand and the United States. There’s much to read and ponder in this catalogue, which variously considers the impact of colonization, the nature of identity and representation, and concerns over land and territory.
Jolene Rickard, a visual historian at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., writes in one of the catalogue’s essays that global indigenous art refers to more than just work by artists who claim indigenous heritage. She says it encompasses “only those artists whose works show an acknowledgement of the ongoing conditions of colonial settler nations, the continuing dispossession of land and resources, and an awareness of indigenous worldviews as part of the future of global cultures.”