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Re-mixed: Reconfiguring the Imaginary

Sonny Assu

Curated by Ellyn Walker

February 9 - March 19, 2016 | Reception: Wednesday February 24, 5-7pm.

Sonny Assu, They’re Coming! Quick! I have a better hiding place for you. Dorvan V, you’ll love it. from the Interventions on the Imaginary series, 2015 - Digital intervention on an A.Y. Jackson painting (Kispayaks Village, 1927)

Re-mixed: Reconfiguring the Imaginary features new and older works from Vancouver-based artist Sonny Assu’s series of digital paintings, Interventions on the Imaginary. Inspired by Tsimshian-Haida scholar Marcia Crosby’s iconic essay “The Construction of the Imaginary Indian” (1991) that raises important critiques about the commodification of ‘difference,’ Assu draws from his Ligwilda’xw ancestry to challenge and speak back to the ways in which (mis)representations of Canada have worked to portray the nation through the lens of settler-colonialism. Mixing creative strategies like appropriation, digital collage, intervention, satire, hashtagging and graffiti writing with Northwest Coast formline, Assu’s images embody multiple histories at once, which work to unhinge nationalist ideologies of “terra nullius” and the ways in which Indigenous presence has been erased from the land. While also referencing science fiction and art historical narratives, Assu’s artworks – presented here as posterworks – complicate and subvert the very notion of what it means to (re)configure a shared ‘imaginary’.

Through museum interventions, large-scale installations, sculpture, photography, printmaking and paintings, Sonny Assu merges the aesthetics of Indigenous iconography with a pop art sensibility in an effort to address contemporary, political and ideological issues. His work often focuses on Indigenous issues and rights, and the ways in which the past has come to inform contemporary ideas and identities. Assu infuses his work with wry humour to open the dialogue towards the use of consumerism, branding and technology as totemic representation. Within this, his work deals with the loss of language and cultural resources, and the effects of colonization upon the Indigenous people of North America.

Assu’s work has been accepted into the National Gallery of Canada, Seattle Art Museum, Vancouver Art Gallery, Museum of Anthropology at UBC, Burke Museum at the University of Washington, Hydro Quebec, Lotto Quebec and in various other public and private collections across Canada, the United States and the UK.

Assu is Ligwilda’xw (We Wai Kai) of the Kwakwaka’wakw nations. He graduated from Emily Carr University (2002) and was the recipient of their distinguished alumni award in 2006. He received the BC Creative Achievement Award in First Nations art in 2011 and was long-listed for the Sobey Art Award in 2012, 2013 and 2015. Assu is an MFA candidate at Concordia University, while he currently works and lives in South Surrey.

Ellyn Walker is a writer and curator based between Toronto (Tkaronto) and Kingston (Cataraqui), on Anishinaabe, Haudenosaunee and Wendat land. Her work is informed by critical art history, decolonial theory and anti-racist methodologies, and focuses on modes of cross-cultural engagement within the arts as potential sites for resistance, re-imagination and (re)conciliation between Indigenous peoples and diverse settler communities. Her writing has been published in such venues as Prefix Photo, PUBLIC Journal, Fuse Magazine, the Journal of Curatorial Studies, BlackFlash and C Magazine, among others. Ellyn is currently a PhD student in Cultural Studies at Queen’s University where she looks at the politics of alliance in contemporary curatorial and artistic practices.