George Clutesi: ḥašaḥʔap / ʔaapḥii / ʕc̓ik / ḥaaʔaksuqƛ / ʔiiḥmisʔap
George Clutesi, Whaling Canoe, n.d., pen and ink on paper. Courtesy of University of Victoria Special Collections.

George Clutesi: ḥašaḥʔap / ʔaapḥii / ʕc̓ik / ḥaaʔaksuqƛ / ʔiiḥmisʔap

Bill Reid Gallery of Northwest Coast Art, Vancouver, BC - To Jan 19, 2025

by Robin Laurence

Described as a “contemplative exploration of the life and legacy” of George Clutesi (1905– 1988), this exhibition honours the extraordinary
accomplishments and lasting influence of the Nuu-chah-nulth artist, writer, actor, activist, storyteller and educator. Born in the Tseshaht village of Maaktii on Vancouver Island and raised in his mother’s home village of Hupachasaht, in Barkley Sound, Clutesi displayed artistic talent from an early age. Despite the personal and cultural trauma he experienced at residential school, he preserved in art and memory the stories and traditions of his people.

In the 1940s and ’50s, Clutesi began exhibiting paintings of Nuu-chah-nulth scenes and subjects, from whaling in seagoing canoes to ceremonial masks and dances. He also wrote for the Indigenous newspaper the Native Voice and recounted Nuu-chah-nulth stories and oral histories on CBC Radio. In his later years, Clutesi further shared his rich cultural knowledge through playwriting, acting, teaching, and authoring books such as Son of Raven, Son of Deer (1967) and Potlatch (1969).

On display at the Bill Reid Gallery is a wide-ranging collection of Clutesi’s paintings and drawings, along with archival photographs, news clippings and a documentary film. Artworks and regalia created by contemporary Nuu-chah-nulth artists and scholars emphatically demonstrate his lasting influence. “George Clutesi was a huge inspiration for the next generation,” says gallery curator Aliya Boubard. He was instrumental, she continues, in “preserving the sacred stories, dances, and masks that are practised and celebrated today.”

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