Speaking of “changing worlds,” it’s a strange feeling to come upon an overturned canoe high in the woods. If you look at it long enough, you start to think you might be the one upside down. I experienced this topsy-turvy feeling last week, when I visited Micah McCarty‘s new installation on the Seattle Center land (he is the artist who contributed the swimming salmon to ʔálʔal Cafe).
“Sojourners Shelter in Time Canoe” (through January) is a Coast Salish canoe carved from a cedar log and painted red and black. It looks like it fell from the sky – or did it jump out of water? – and be caught in some branches near the Wall Amphitheater. It is hung next to a vertical piece of native cedar art, the “Seattle Center Totem,” by Duane Pascoe, Victor Mowatt a Earl of Muldon from 1970. McCarty (Makah Hereditary Keeper, Master Carver and former Tribal Chairman) says his artwork recalls the Makah story of staying in a canoe, and how the travelers protected themselves along the journey by carrying canoes knock them down above their heads.
Indigenous stories are all around us in the Pacific Northwest, embedded in our waterways and mountains and the ground beneath our feet. This month you can familiarize yourself with a little more through a variety of art exhibits.
Recently opened in the Burke Museum, Body Language: Reawakening the Cultural Tattoo of the North West (through April 16) showcases indigenous body art from the past and present. As the exhibit shows, 19th century missionaries and federal potlatch bans both worked to suppress First Nations body art traditions. But for the past 10 years, a Canadian tattoo artist Dion Kazas of the Nlaka’pamux nation has been working to revive the art of Indigenous tattooing.
Kaszas curated this show – first created for the Bill Reid Northwest Coast Art Gallery in Vancouver, BC – to highlight several different tattoo traditions as reflected in cultural artifacts and contemporary art. “Eliminating our identity, including our tattoos, is part of [the] imperialist, colonial project,” Kaszas told The Vancouver Sun at the exhibit’s debut in 2018. “We’re reaching back into the past to bring it into the present to take it into the future.”