Curated by Professor Charlotte Townsend-Gault of the University of British Columbia, Backstory: Nuuchaanulth Ceremonial Curtains and the Work of Ki-ke-in
brings together for the first time, thliitsapilthim
or ceremonial curtains by Nuuchaanulth artist Ki-ke-in (Ron Hamilton) and historical curtains from museum and private collections in Canada and the United States.
Painted on cotton, these thliitsapilthim are amongst the largest, portable two-dimensional paintings (up to 3 metres high x 18 metres long) in the world. Historical ancestral exploits and episodes from family histories, conflicts, captures and alliances are seen in these striking narrative works. The Nuuchaanulth were the first people Europeans encountered when Captain James Cook landed at Yuquot in 1778 in what is now British Columbia. Though much of the art of the Northwest Coast has come to be associated with poles and carvings of the Haida and Kwakwaka’wakw, the Nuuchaanulth have made and used ceremonial curtains for thousands of years on the west coast of what is now called Vancouver Island.
Each thliitsapilthim has been painted following the instructions from a family needing to tell the ‘backstory’, its history and spiritual pedigree, that will enhance and validate the ceremony of naming, celebrating a marriage, mourning, or reconciliation. Thliitsapilthim were originally painted using locally derived pigments, including charcoal, ochre and other minerals, on cedar planks or panels. The prohibitions on First Nations ceremonies that derived from the 1885 Indian Act drove these events underground. It was during this period that some of the fine older examples in this exhibition found their way into public and private collections around the world. But the Nuuchaanulth never stopped creating and displaying the stories of the most important events of their lives, although they were now using sail cloth or cotton so that they could be folded up and hidden from the Indian Agents, if necessary.
Accompanied by photographs, documents and interviews, Backstory: Nuuchaanulth Ceremonial Curtains and the Work of Ki-ke-in promotes a deeper understanding of Nuuchaanulth art and culture and is a celebration of these remarkable curtains and the people who make and use them.
Backstory: Nuuchaanulth Ceremonial Curtains and the Work of Ki-ke-in is generously sponsored by The Audain Foundation and presented with the 2010 Vancouver Cultural Olympiad with support from the British Columbia Arts Council, the Canada Council for the Arts, and the UBC Museum of Anthropology.
Ki-ke-in is a Nuuchaanulth fisher, storyteller, poet, and scholar from the Hupacasath First Nation and lives on the Ahaswinis Reserve in the Alberni Valley. Ki-ke-in is active internationally through his participation in public debates, symposia, and exhibitions concerning a trans-Pacific history for the cultures and art of the Northwest Coast. He has contributed to the publications, Indian Residential Schools: the Nuuchahnulth Experience (1996) and Listening to our Ancestors: The Art of Native Life Along the North Pacific Coast (2006). Ki-ke-in has made a vital contribution to Nuuchaanulth art, ceremonial and ritual life.
Charlotte Townsend-Gault is a Professor in the Department of Art History, Visual Art and Theory at the University of British Columbia and Honorary Visiting Research Fellow in the Department of Anthropology at the University College London. Townsend-Gault was a curator of Land, Spirit, Power: First Nations at the National Gallery of Canada (1992), Lawrence Paul Yuxweluptun (1995) and Rebecca Belmore (2002) for the Belkin Art Gallery. She has written about the work of Marianne Nicholson, James Luna, and Stan Douglas, and is at work on two books, “Masked Relations: Display and Disguise on the Northwest Coast” and “The Idea of Northwest Coast Native Art: An Anthology,” co-edited with Jennifer Kramer and Ki-ke-in (forthcoming 2010).
For information: Naomi Sawada firstname.lastname@example.org, tel: 604-822-3640
Morris and Helen Belkin Art Gallery
University of British Columbia
1825 Main Mall
Vancouver, BC V6T 1Z2