The Audain Art Museum, soon celebrating its third anniversary, has opened a special exhibition unlike anything previously displayed.
Tales of an Empty Cabin: Somebody Nobody Was… is a show by Joseph Tisiga, an artist born in 1984 in Edmonton, Alberta and who is currently based in Whitehorse, Yukon. He grew up in urban environments and it was not until his late teens that Tisiga began to intentionally engage his Kaska Dena ancestry.
From 2006 to 2008, Tisiga lived in Paris and worked as a renovator creating faux plaster ceiling and wall treatments. During his early 20’s, Tisiga was employed as a social worker in Whitehorse, which he has continued to do for the past decade, working with NGO’s including the Skookum Jim Friendship Centre. During this time he began pursuing personal interests, such as drawing, that would have a significant impact on his art practice. In 2012 he attended NSCAD University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and in 2015 Tisiga founded Splintered Craft, an art-based employment program in Whitehorse. Much of Tisiga’s multidisciplinary work deals with his indigenous identity and stereotypes as well as tropes imposed on it. In his art, narrative constructs are employed as a means to examine history, indigenous and colonial modalities, spiritual amnesia and the contemporary complexities of cultural entities. Literary devices, such as satire and humour, play a large role in his practice and are reflected throughout his work. This show is Joseph Tisiga’s first major solo museum exhibition, and the museum became a site of production, giving a chance for museum-goers to witness never-before-seen artwork.
A key theme represented in many of Tisiga’s works is identity, focusing on the Indigenous people within a Euro-Canadian landscape. Two key figures in the show that embody this complex theme are Archibald Belaney and Oliver Jackson. Archibald Belaney was an Englishman who immigrated to Canada as a young man and masqueraded as a First Nations trapper and author in Ontario, Manitoba and Saskatchewan, changing his name to Grey Owl and gaining notoriety in the 1930’s. Belaney/Grey Owl published a series of short stories titled Tales of an Empty Cabin for which he gained widespread acclaim, and it is after this book that the exhibition is entitled. Tisiga’s fascination with Archibald Belaney extends from the seemingly dissociative condition of being ‘Indian’ that the Englishman lived. Thus Tisiga echoes the complexities of Grey Owl’s separated identity through his self-portraits that are also in part an expression of how he navigates his Kaska Dena ancestry.
Similarly, Tisiga explores ideas of composite identities and self-mythology through his selection of faux indigenous artifacts created by Oliver Jackson (1899 – 1982), a non-Indigenous man. Jackson’s works are presented by Tisiga in a wall tent, a mobile shelter that alludes to settler-miner arrivals in the Yukon. The artist leverages such false objects in a mini-museum like environment as a twist on the context of Jackson’s English ancestry in the construction of ‘Indianness’ for Euro-Canadian consumption. While Jackson’s objects were skillfully created with earnest intentions, they reveal a homogenization of distinct Indigenous cultures. Jackson’s Indian Museum opened in the late 1950’s to house his various faux costumes, artifacts and carvings. The museum was a big draw for school children from all over BC, and the objects he created are now part of the Sncəwips Heritage Museum collection, which is managed by the Westbank First Nation.
To accompany the special exhibition, the AAM has developed programming inspired by the artwork in Tisiga’s show, as well as the art in the permanent collection. Family Studio continues to be a great Sunday activity for everyone to enjoy, running from 12 – 4pm. Throughout February, the theme will be “sculptural assemblies,” and the activities will be inspired by Contemporary First Nations works that are housed in the permanent collection. Throughout March, the theme will be “homes in the forest,” and the activities will be inspired by works in the special exhibition Tales of an Empty Cabin: Somebody Nobody Was…
A new addition to the museum event calendar, Art After Dark on Friday evenings is a space for both youth and adults to create art and get inspired with weekly events featuring art-making to artist talks. As well, Yoga @ the Audain has returned as a permanent weekly feature of Art After Dark, from 6:30 – 8pm on Friday evenings with instructor Laura Davies.
For more information on upcoming events, visit audainartmuseum.com/events. All regular programming is free for members and with admission, so stop by the Audain Art Museum to learn more and purchase a membership!
This is a guest post from the Audain Art Museum, written by Chloe Gillot.