Claiming Space: Voices of Urban Aboriginal Youth: Interview with UBC’s Museum of Anthropology Curator Pam Brown


Diamond Point - Drum

Diamond Point – Drum

Claiming Space: Voices of Urban Aboriginal Youth (Jun. 1, 2014 to Jan. 4, 2015) at The Museum of Anthropology (MOA) at UBC presents “a unique look at contemporary, conceptual, and Native art through the lens of Indigenous youth.”

Pam BrownCurated by Pam Brown, of MOA, with Curatorial Assistant Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers, Claiming Space exhibits the work of more than 25 artists aged 15-25 from across Canada, the US, Norway, and New Zealand using film, fashion, photography, painting, performance, creative writing, new media, and more.

With an intention to “define what it really means to be an urban Aboriginal youth today,” says Tailfeathers, this is an “[u]nfiltered and unapologetic” exhibit that challenges “centuries of stereotyping and assimilation policies” in order to allow the artists to creatively engage “with decolonizing movements through new and traditional art forms” as well as “assert their identity and affirm their relationship to both urban spaces and ancestral territories.”

Check out our interview with Curator Pam Brown to find out more about Claiming Space and the amazing artists taking part.

Urban Native Youth Association - Reflections

Urban Native Youth Association – Reflections

The exhibition is described as a “New Generation of Artists Depict Indigenous Culture as a Continuum” and “the diverse ways in which urban Aboriginal youth assert their identity and affirm their relationship to both urban spaces and ancestral territories.” Can you explain how the artists involved have done this?

Ippiksaut Friesen - Untitled

Ippiksaut Friesen – Untitled

Artists first position themselves by affirming their ancestry, mentors, teachers and cultural influences.  Their work is informed by this grounding and their experience as urban aboriginal youth in the city.  Two examples:

Danielle Morsette: “This dress is very contemporary although very traditionally inspired by wool and cedar-bark weaving.   I wanted to create this dress to show that Coast Salish weaving still has room to advance while done tastefully and true to the art form.”

Alison Bremner: “Rather than viewing my work as appropriating from one culture or another, I view it as a joining of the two. Similar to looking through 3-D glasses, if you only look through one eye, the full picture won’t be as clear.”

The artwork in Claiming Space include a wide ranging collection of new media, film, fashion, photography, painting, performance, creative writing and traditional art forms and are as diverse as the communities from where the artists come (across Canada, the US, Norway, and New Zealand).

Why did you focus on youths aged 15-25? What does that age group specifically have to offer to this topic? 

Marja B+Ñl Nango - Sami

Marja Bal Nango – Sami

Youth are the future. The exhibition Claiming Space, Voices of Urban Aboriginal Youth grew out of my work with the Native Youth Program (15-18 years) at the Museum of Anthropology for the past 20 years and our work with the Overly Creative Minds program at the Urban Native Youth Association (UNYA). The excitement and creative work generated by our ongoing collaboration inspired the focus on youth aged 15-25.

Funding cutbacks to arts and youth organizations has severely impacted urban aboriginal youth programs like UNYA which is one of the primary outlets for the voices of urban aboriginal youth. The exhibit is about creating a space in the city for urban aboriginal youth to express and assert their identity.

The exhibition includes “a wide-ranging collection of film, fashion, photography, painting, performance, creative writing, new media, and more.” Why did you choose to include this range instead of a specific form? 

In the spirit of taking creative risk, we actively sought out the widest possible range of media.  We are extremely pleased and delighted at the rich and generous response to our invitation.

Jeneen Frei Njootle - Untitled

Jeneen Frei Njootle – Untitled

Can you tell us about two or three of the artists participating in the exhibition and why their work was chosen?

1. Reflections of the Indigenous Sprawl Mural by the Overly Creative Minds Program at the Urban Native Youth Association

We chose the OCM mural because it examines the politics of urban Aboriginal identity in a new and innovative way. It was created from the collective mindset of over 30 Aboriginal youth in the OCM (Overly Creative Minds) program and represents the duality that First Nations youth exist within today.  This growing segment of our population tiptoes a narrow line between Indigenous values: tradition, nature, community; and urbanization: pop culture, urban sprawl, individualism.

Kelli Clifton -The Male Gaze

Kelli Clifton -The Male Gaze

2. As opposition to the Tar Sands and mega-pipeline projects make daily headlines, it is clear that youth today are faced with the largest environmental crisis in the history of this planet. Cody Lecoy’s Lion’s Gate Bridge was chosen because it urges us to first consider the value of the earth before preaching the perceived benefits of resource development.  Deeply layered and firmly rooted in traditional values of respect for the land, his work speaks to the inherited responsibility to protect this land and repair the damage that has been done.

3. Kelli Clifton’s The Male Gaze was selected because it fearlessly confronts the issue of the objectification and sexualization of Aboriginal women. Positioning the observer as the object of the male gaze, Clifton’s work leaves one with a distinct feeling of unease and discomfort.

Artists in the exhibition include Alison Bremner (Tlingit), Deanna Bittern (Ojibwe), Jamie Blankenship-Attig (Nlaka’pamux, Secwepemc, Nez Perce, Muskoday Cree), Kelli Clifton (Tsimshian), Jeneen Frei Njootle (Gwichin), Ippiksaut Friesen (Inuit), Clifton Guthrie (Tsimshian), Cody Lecoy (Okanagan/Esquimalt), Arizona Ledger (Fijian, Samoan, Tongan, Maori), Danielle Morsette (Stó:lo/Suquamish), Ellena Neel (Kwakwaka’wakw/Ahousaht), Zach Soakai (Tongan, Samoan), Diamond Point (Musqueam), Crystal Smith de Molina (Git’ga’at), Nola Naera (Maori), Kelsey Sparrow (Musqueam/Anishinabe), Cole Speck (Kwakwaka’wakw), Rose Stiffarm (Siksika Blackfoot, Chippewa Cree, Tsartlip Saanich, Cowichan, A’aninin, Nakoda, French, & Scottish), Taleetha Tait (Wet’suwet’en), Marja Bål Nango (Sámi, Norway), Harry Brown (Kwakwaka’wakw), Anna McKenzie (Opaskwayak Cree, Manitoba), Sarah Yankoo (Austrian, Scottish, Algonquin, Irish and Romanian), Raymond Caplin (Mi’gmac), Emilio Wawatie (Anishanabe) and the Northern Collection (Toombz/Shane Kelsey [Mohawk], and the Curse/Cory Golder [Mi’maq]).

Also included are works from the Urban Native Youth Association, Musqueam youth and the Native Youth Program.

Taleetha Tait - Birch Baskets

Taleetha Tait – Birch Baskets

Claiming Space: Voices of Urban Aboriginal Youth will be on display at the O’Brian Gallery, The Museum of Anthropology (MOA) at UBC from June 1, 2014 to January 4, 2015.