Olivia Whetung: Sugarbush Shrapnel
CONTEMPORARY ART GALLERY, Vancouver BC - Oct 10, 2019 - Jan 5, 2020
by Michael Turner
Chemong Lake-based Anishinaabe artist Olivia Whetung is a member of Curve Lake First Nation and a citizen of the Nishnaabeg Nation. Her practice, while materially available through the medium of beading, is motivated by what she calls “acts of / active native presence,” the system within which knowledge is transmitted, received and protected through the interconnectivity of land and language. “Beading is itself an embodied act,” writes CAG curator Kimberly Phillips, “and in Whetung’s work the sounds of words, knowledge of waterways and care of the land are carried by the beads without entirely revealing them.”
For her solo exhibition at the CAG (her fi rst solo exhibition at a major public institution), Whetung has focused her inquiry on issues concerning sustainable food sources, invasive species and flooding in her home territory in the wake of climate changes accelerated by extractive colonial economies. Of immediate concern to the artist is the e ect these changes have had on the Anishinaabe practice of maple syruping, not only as an economic driver that helps to feed and clothe members of her community, but also as an activity through which cultural knowledge is passed on to future generations.
Notable in this exhibition is Whetung’s beadwork mapping onto large-scale panels of maple, birch and cherry veneer. Although not literal depictions of travel routes, evidence of “native presence” is sensed through patterns of transmission, reception and protection. The places where these maps lead are equally various, though all are interlinked through a landscape that is home to Indigenous reclamation, sovereignty and belonging.