Nanaimo Art Gallery curator Jesse Birch performs a frontside ollie as he tests out the gallery’s new halfpipe being built in ArtLab as part of the upcoming ‘Boarder X’ exhibition. (Josef Jacobson/The News Bulletin)

Indigenous artists showcase extreme sport-themed art at Nanaimo Art Gallery

Touring exhibition ‘Boarder X’ features work inspired by skateboarding, snowboarding and surfing

After being postponed for months due to COVID-19, a travelling exhibition featuring skateboarding, snowboarding and surfing-inspired art by a dozen indigenous artists from nations across Canada is finally coming to the Nanaimo Art Gallery.

Starting Sept. 18 and continuing until Nov. 15, the NAG presents Boarder X, a multidisciplinary exhibition organized by Winnipeg Art Gallery indigenous and contemporary art curator Jaimie Isaac. The NAG will allow 12 visitors maximum at one time and guests will be asked to wear masks and physically distance themselves.

NAG curator Jesse Birch said the gallery originally had plans for a grand opening – “We were going to close off Commercial Street and have this big opening where there were going to be professional skateboarders here and it was going to be the biggest party,” he said – but due to COVID-19 they will be offering programming throughout the exhibition instead.

This includes guided tours of the show, family activities and the opportunity to give skateboarding a try on the new halfpipe that has been installed in the ArtLab workshop studio.

“One of the thing that Jaimie, the curator, talks about in relation to the show is how for indigenous artists responding to land has a totally different resonance,” Birch said. “So when you’re riding your surfboard and responding to the waves, when you’re riding your skateboard responding to the land, or snowboard, you’re thinking about the land and your relationship with the land. And of course indigenous people have a deep relationship with this land that goes for millennia.”

Among the artists in Boarder X is Bracken Hanuse Corlett, who hails from the West Coast Wuikinuxv and Klahoose First Nations. This summer Hanuse Corlett collaborated with Snuneymuxw artist Joel Good to paint designs on the surface of the Harewood Centennial Park skatepark. The project was led by the NAG and was meant to coincide with the opening of Boarder X.

Hanuse Corlett’s piece in the show is a painted skateboard launch ramp called Potlatch or Die. Hanuse Corlett said skateboarding was one of his first anti-authoritarian acts, which he relates to the prohibition of the potlatch in Canada from 1885 to 1951 and those who defied it.

“The practice survived but it had to go underground or you had to find other ways to conduct the ceremonies,” Hanuse Corlett said. “Often they would happen in people’s houses and it was always under the nose of the Indian agents and the church.”

The potlatch, which Hanuse Corlett describes as a “complex ceremonial system,” is a gathering lasting a number of days that could include the handing out of ancestral names, marriages, dispute resolution, rites of passage for children entering adulthood and singing and dancing.

Hanuse Corlett said potlatching is still very important to people on the West Coast and his own family has started to place more value on it over the past 10 years. He described it as “reawakening.”

“Skateboarding is really about movement and when you’re skateboarding, if you take some time off, the muscle memory isn’t always there. You have to reawaken everything like you’re starting from Square One,” he said. “So those are just some of the relationships that I was thinking about as far as keeping something moving that might have been asleep or keeping energy moving in a positive way.”

WHAT’S ON … Boarder X comes to the Nanaimo Art Gallery, 150 Commercial St., from Sept. 18 to Nov. 15. For more information about related programming, click here.

RELATED: Nanaimo Art Gallery holds first exhibition since COVID-19 rules implemented



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