By Heather Ramsay-Raven may be travelling in the guise of the most comprehensive exhibit of Haida art in history, but islanders who aren’t travelling before September 17, the last day of the Vancouver Art Gallery show, can still take in the experience while staying in their own armchair.
Raven Travelling: Two Centuries of Haida Art is a 200-page coffee table book filled with full-colour images of many of the incredible pieces in the exhibition.
The book also contains several essays, including newly commissioned pieces by Haida Gwaii Museum curator and one of the VAG’s Haida advisors Nika Collison, as well as Vince Collison, who worked with the VAG since last July, and curatorial advisor Lucille Bell.
Curators along with elders and artists involved in the show were on hand August 22 for a book launch held at Gina Guuahl Juunaay or Performing House at the Heritage Centre at Qay’llnagaay.
As with any Haida ceremony, chiefs and other dignitaries, including Daina Augaitis, the chief curator of the Vancouver Art Gallery at the book launch, made several speeches.
Roy Jones Jr., Chief Cheexial Taaixou, spoke for Chief Skidegate who was not able to attend the event and he noted how important the book and the exhibit are to the Haida. Later, when asked to speak again for his own clan, he joked, “It’s not often one gets to speak as a chief twice in one night.”
“When our art is taken off Haida Gwaii and into the world, it is the only way people get a sense of who we are,” he said.
Barb Wilson, who spoke as a matriarch of the Cumshewa clan, stood with her brother Giitsxaa. She paid tribute to the young people.
“Howa for what you have done,” she said.
She referred to the law in place until 1951, which forbade the potlatch. “When I was a young person we didn’t learn much about ourselves,” she said.
As mentioned in the book and in the exhibit, these years when artists were forced to quietly continue their traditions, but could not pass them on openly, are now called “The Silent Years,”.
Giitsxaa, whose work appears in the exhibit and the book, said he was happy to see another book available. “They allow me to have a good look at pieces I’d otherwise not know,” he says. When he first started carving in high school, there were only five books available and four were by Marius Barbeau.
He reflected back to Robert Davidson’s pole raising in 1969 and remembered how little regalia was worn at that event. “There is more here in jewellery than there was in the hall that day,” he said.
He went to residential school and experienced the cultural prohibitions, and even watched as those in authority backed away from these laws.
“I never chose to be an artist, I simply am. I tried to chose to be something else, but I simply can’t,” he said.
Although he loves to work in the Haida artform, Giitsxaa said he envied the young artists of today.
“I wonder what it would be like to start out with all these books and knowledge people were trying to suppress,” he said.
He also noted his appreciation for the art gallery, “As artists, we have to appreciate you. It doesn’t matter what we create if no one wants it.”
Spruce root weaver Isabel Rorick and textile artist Evelyn Vanderhoop also spoke.
Ms Collison gave a big thanks to the elders in the Skidegate Haida Immersion Program who gave the Vancouver Art Gallery permission to print stories they have been translating using the spelling system they have devised. Jackie Casey read the Foam Woman story printed in the book at the event.
Towards the end of the evening guests were invited to get their books signed by the artists, elders and curators who were at the event.
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