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Salish Sea Sentinel | May 21, 2019

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Nanaimo Art Gallery features Indigenous languages

Nanaimo Art Gallery features Indigenous languages

Above: Arlene Deptuck, left, and Jesse Birch of the Nanaimo Art Gallery.

The Nanaimo Art Gallery is hosting Hul’q’umi’num lessons as it explores Indigenous languages and their impact in its latest exhibit. 

athut / Words Bounce features three artists from different places who work in installation, print-making, video and photography. 

The exhibit comes as the Nanaimo Art Gallery wraps up its latest year-long thematic inquiry: “How can we speak differently (scekwul yuxw ‘alu kws nec’s tu sqwal ct)?” 

NAG Curator Jesse Birch said the exhibit is the last one until the gallery takes on a new question. The annual inquiries began, he said, because a single exhibit didn’t seem like enough to reflect on a particular theme.   

“The questions that these artists are asking (in athut / Words Bounce) are similar to the things we’ve been talking about throughout the year,” he said. 

Other exhibits have looked at the language of photography, space and other non-verbal ways to communicate. athut / Words Bounce, he said, showcases literal languages and how they shift, transform, and even disappear.  

“We really wanted to emphasize that in the last show,” Birch said. 

athut / Words Bounce hits you as soon as you walk into the gallery, with unapologetic floor-to-ceiling high-contrast paintings by Filipino-Canadian artist Patrick Cruz titled Step Mother Tongue. 

The symbols created on walls and pottery displays include the pre-contact Indigenous script Baybayin and are inspired by graffiti, cave drawings, alchemical symbols and written language.  

athut / Words Bounce also features photography and print work by Joi T. Arcand of Muskeg Lake Cree Nation, whose work focuses on the revitalization of Nēhiyawēwin ᓀᐦᐃᔭᐍᐏᐣ (Plains Cree) and her own journey learning the language. 

Finally, there is a video installation by Susan Hiller called Lost and Found, which features a compilation of voices speaking, singing, reminiscing and even arguing in 23 languages, highlighting endangered languages and their value. 

NAG’s Indigenous Education Coordinator Arlene Deptuck said the exhibit will also include a series of four Hul’q’umi’num lessons with Snuneymuxw’s Adam Manson. 

“We’re really grateful to Adam and Gary Manson who are Snuneymuxw language champions,” Deptuck said. 

“We are open to learning from them, what’s the best way we can be a support for more language learners to bring it back to its rightful landscape?” 
The Hul’q’umi’num title of Words Bounce  athut  was provided by the Mansons. 

“It’s allowing the language champions to determine what would be fitting,” Deptuck explained. 

She said, as the gallery moves into its next yearly thematic inquiry, “What are generations?” there is a continued commitment to make space for Hul’q’umi’num lessons. 

Deptuck said there will again be a series of four Hul’q’umi’num classes when the next exhibit opens in May, with the group moving into a local coffee shop. 

“This is not something that we’re just thinking about for this past year,” she said. 

“There’s a commitment from us for there to be space for continued Hul’q’umi’num classes here and to find ways of connecting it to a question or exhibition.” 

athut / Words Bounce opened on Jan. 24 and closes March 31.