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Saving the Tribal Soles

2 minute read
Andy Duck

Despite its glass towers, sophisticated downtown eateries and swish nighttime skiing, Vancouver still has a frontier-town feel, and you can sense the culture clash in the work of artist Brian Jungen. On display in Jungen’s hometown solo show at the Vancouver Art Gallery until April 30 are works ironically recasting mass-produced objects into indigenous artifacts, such as Indian masks constructed from basketball sneakers, as well as a sculpture that transforms cheap plastic chairs into a whale skeleton. Jungen, who was raised on Dane-zaa Indian land north of the remote logging town of Fort St. John, British Columbia, and moved to Vancouver as a teenager, is of mixed Indian-Swiss parentage. His origins inform his best-known work, Prototypes for New Understanding, above, a series that features Northwest Coast Indian masks painstakingly reassembled from unstitched Nike Air Jordans.

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“On my [childhood] reservation, basketball has taken over from hockey, because it’s basic and cheapall you need is a hoop and a ball,” says Jungen. So when he spotted a pair of the black, white and red sneakers in a Calgary sporting-goods store, the penny dropped: “I thought, holy s___, that’s exactly like the Coastal [Indian] color scheme,” he says. Prototypes is a tribute, in part, to the “pockets of the third world in Canada … where artifacts for the native-art industry are produced.” Guess that’s something to ponder when you’re browsing through the airport souvenir shop. www.vanartgallery.bc.ca

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