Indigenous History in Colour by Luke Parnell

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The Bill Reid Gallery of Northwest Coast Art presents the Western Canadian premiere of Indigenous History in Colour, a solo exhibition by Luke Parnell. The exhibition is a powerful exploration of the relationship between Northwest Coast Indigenous oral histories, conceptual art, and traditional formline design. 

Luke Parnell
Luke Parnell – Neon Reconciliation Explosion (2020). Acrylic on birch plywood, pine, presswood. Photo by Toni Hafkenscheid. Courtesy MKG127.

Indigenous History in Colour by Luke Parnell

  • When: February 3 to May 9, 2021, Wed – Sun from 11:00am to 5:00pm
    • A virtual opening celebration, featuring Parnell and curator Beth Carter in conversation, will be hosted via Facebook Live on Tuesday, February 2, 2021 at 6:00pm.
  • Where: Bill Reid Gallery (639 Hornby St, Vancouver)
  • Admission: Adults $13; Seniors $10; Students $8; youth $6; Children free. Free admission offered for Indigenous Peoples, Gallery Members, and current SFU students with ID.

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.

“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,” says Beth Carter, curator of the Bill Reid Gallery.

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.

“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,” says Parnell. “My artwork asks questions but never answers them.”

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.

Parnell also has a short film Remediation (2018), which 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.

About the Artist

Raised in northern BC, Parnell is a contemporary artist and Assistant Professor at OCAD University. He is Wilp Laxgiik Nisga’a from Gingolx on his mother’s side and Haida from Massett on his father’s side. Having apprenticed with a Master Northwest Coast Indigenous carver, he earned his Bachelor of Fine Arts at OCAD U and a Master of Applied Arts from Emily Carr University of Art + Design. His artistic practice explores the relationship between Northwest Coast Indigenous oral histories and art, with a focus on transformation narratives. Parnell’s work, which combines both traditional and contemporary symbols, has been exhibited at the National Gallery of Canada and the Biennial of Contemporary Native Arts in Montreal, among others.

Follow the gallery on Facebook for more info.

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