Restless Native Art


| January-February 2010


The painting is bold and arresting enough to command your attention, but when you learn that it’s called Portrait of a Residential School Child and is the work of First Nations artist Lawrence Paul Yuxweluptun, who himself spent time in Canada’s residential school system, it takes on an even more powerful meaning. It’s one of many provocative artworks in Challenging Traditions: Contemporary First Nations Art of the Northwest Coast (Douglas & McIntyre), a book that will have readers rethinking their pat notions about Northwest Coast art. Yes, there are colorful ovoid-patterned images of salmon and orcas and the ubiquitous raven—and more than a few masks—but the stylistic range and the crosscurrents of meaning conveyed by these 40 artists are breathtaking. One suspects that Raven, the shape-shifting character central to indigenous myth, would approve of these paradoxical and fascinating expressions of the Native soul.