Professor Charlotte Townsend-Gault - Lalakenis: First Nations Art? Dangerous Assembly?

Open Lecture


Arrival of coppers and masks to Ottawa during the Awalaskenis II Journey, July 27, 2014 Photo: Bernadette Phan

Awalakenis, a journey across Canada by members of the Kwakwaka’wakw and Haida nations, was the latest attempt to shame and un-mask the role of the government in controlling the lives and constraining the cultures of First Nations people in Canada. Lalakenis, an exhibition un the Belkin Art Gallery at the University of British Columbia, assembled the masks and copper shields carried on the journey with gifts received along the way, including belongings associated with diverse cosmologies. What are the hazards, definitional and other, in assembling powerful possessions, masks, rattles, medicine bundles – the traces, material and immaterial, of distinct cultural practices – and making claims for doing so that blur the line between performance art and cultural performance?

Charlotte Townsend-Gault, currently Professor in the Department of Art History, Visual Art, and Theory, and Faculty Associate, Department of Anthropology, University of British Columbia, has published extensively on contemporary Indigenous art and culture of North America. In the early 1970s she worked at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, recording and writing about the conceptual art practice with which the college was associated. She organised a year-long series of seminars on Art and Anthropology at the ICA (1973-4). She holds a PhD in Social Anthropology from University College London. Amongst exhibitions curated Land, Spirit, Power: First Nations Art at the National Gallery of Canada (1992), Lawrence Paul Yuxweluptun: Born to Live and Die on your Coloialist Reservations (1995), and Backstory: Nuu-chah-nulth Ceremonial Curtains and the Work of Ki-ke-in (2010). She has been teaching Indigenous art histories at UBC since 1995. In 2015 the Canada Prize in the Humanities was awarded, by the Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences, to Native Art of the Northwest Coast: A History of Changing Ideas, co-edited with Jenifer Kramer and Ki-ke-in.

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