Arlene Deptuck, indigenous education coordinator, centre, and Yvonne Vanderkooi, art education coordinator, gives a tour of Marianne Nicolson’s exhibition Awi’nagwiskasu: Real Land to elementary school students. Chris Kuderle Photo

Marianne Nicolson’s exhibit Awi’nagwiskasu: Real Land runs until July 2 at the Nanaimo Art Gallery

Public art launch of Nicolson’s work is Sunday (June 25)

Marianne Nicolson’s artwork first gained prominence when she scaled a cliff and painted a pictographic crest depicting the origin of her people.

The cliff was at Kingcome Inlet, B.C., near her ancestral village Gwa’yi. Nicolson is of Scottish and Dzawada’enuxw First Nations descent. She is a linguist, anthropologist and visual artist. Her work often incorporates both the Kwak’wala language and English in its titles.

Her exhibit Awi’nagwiskasu: Real Lands is on display at the Nanaimo Art Gallery, located at 150 Commercial St., until July 2. The exhibit showcases a wide selection of Nicolson’s work.

“Her work is often based on pictographic forms that are part of the community’s traditional means of expression, but then she brings them into a contemporary context,” said Jesse Birch, Nanaimo Art Gallery curator, adding that her work is rooted in her community.

Birch said the pictograph she painted on the cliff stands as a marker of vitality for her community.

“Her community went through a lot of challenges throughout the 20th century with missionary priests and the residential school system and environmental degradation and the appropriation of their land, so part of what she does is she wants to show the revitalization of her community,” said Birch.

According to the Nanaimo Art Gallery’s press release the “public artwork is being launched on the 150th anniversary of confederation, at a time when communities and institutions, including the Nanaimo Art Gallery, are participating in conversations about the process of reconciliation.” Nicolson’s artwork celebrates the “re-emergence of indigenous people’s voices, while articulating that there can be no true reconciliation between indigenous and settler societies without an acknowledgment of indigenous peoples’ displacement from their lands.”

Nicolson is also creating a public art piece that will hang on the rear of the Nanaimo Art Gallery.

The gallery is hosting a launch on Sunday (June 25) at 60 Wharf St. Nicolson will be in attendance and the public is invited to attend.

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