Presented by Musqueam, MOA and a community of Salish weavers
MUSEUM OF ANTHROPOLOGY at UBC, VANCOUVER BC – To April 15, 2018
By Michael Turner
Weaving, like pottery in the early 2000s, is experiencing a revival. However, what distinguishes weaving as an aspect of contemporary art practice and weaving as a symbol of cultural identity can be found in the relationship between the weaver and the land from which woven materials are given. MOA curator Susan Rowley acknowledges this “renaissance” in the museum’s current exhibition of Salish weaving, where recent works by Musqueam master weavers, Wendy Grant-John and Debra Sparrow are displayed alongside weavings from the early 1800s.
The story behind The Fabric of Our Land’s striking display of blankets begins with a historic break in the conveyance of weaving knowledge brought on by the Hudson’s Bay Company, the reserve system, the Indian Act and residential schools, yet was kept alive through the remembrances of Musqueam elders. Inspired by their words, Grant-John and Sparrow consulted books, where they learned how blankets were gifted to and traded with explorers and eventually accessioned by Finnish, English, Scottish and American museum collections, from which 10 were borrowed for this exhibition.
In addition to static displays, Sparrow has activated a loom from the MOA’s collection to weave a new blanket inside the gallery. Here, viewers can see how Musqueam blankets are made and learn how their materials are more than just fibres. A notable difference between the earlier blankets and the blankets of Grant-John, Sparrow, Robyn Sparrow and Krista Point, is the former’s incorporation of materials no longer found in the vicinity, such as wooly mountain goat and, quite possibly, black bear hair.