Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Hoop themes

Aboriginal artists explore cultural continuity and exchange

  • Print

If I asked you to list time-honoured forms of First Nations cultural expression, abstract painting and basketball might not immediately spring to mind. A pair of exhibitions closing Friday at Urban Shaman, however, suggest maybe they should.

Jeff Kahm, an Edmonton-born Plains Cree painter and faculty member at the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, N.M., offers a subtle twist on familiar strains of abstract painting in Paradigm, his exhibition in Urban's main gallery.

With machine-like precision he divides his paintings, which range from small works on paper to imposing groups of canvases, into bold but carefully balanced configurations of hard-edged stripes. In several cases, Kahm methodically repeats identical figures -- chevrons or nested arrangements of bars and boxes -- across entire series of works that differ only in the colours used.

The works draw freely from the history of North American and European abstract art, quoting Colour Field and Minimal painters like Barnet Newman, Kenneth Noland, Frank Stella and Jack Bush. Not coincidentally, they also echo the striking geometries of traditional indigenous art and design, notably the Navajo and Pueblo ceramics and textiles of Kahm's adopted home in the American Southwest.

Today, thanks in large part to the efforts of First Nations artists and scholars, the direct influence of aboriginal esthetic innovations on the course of 20th-century art is widely acknowledged. Artists like Kahm reopen that dialogue, producing works that create new avenues of exploration while enriching our experience of established artistic traditions.

David Garneau, also of Edmonton, highlights a similar example of cultural continuity in Hoop Dancers, a gorgeous video installation on view concurrently in the Media Gallery. The dreamlike footage shows a group of four dancers in full regalia playing a casual game of basketball between performances at the Standing Buffalo School northeast of Regina.

Shot in impressionistic slow motion, the camera lingers on seemingly contradictory images -- the ball hitting the blacktop amid a frenzy of beaded moccasins, dribbling combined with Fancy Dance footwork, brightly coloured fringe worn over Nike athletic shorts -- all shot against the imposing backdrop of the Qu'Appelle Valley landscape and sky.

Garneau's clever allusion to the hoop dance, which is performed today by dancers representing numerous groups, underscores and celebrates the dexterity and skill basketball players and traditional dancers share. It also points to some surprising history.

Native athletes had been shooting hoops for decades when the modern hoop dance was formalized in the 1930s, a period when many established forms of indigenous ceremonial and artistic expression had been outlawed, prompting the creation of new ones. Basketball, meanwhile, was introduced at American residential schools as early as the 1910s as part of stated attempts at forced assimilation. Whether or not it had the desired effect, the sport spread quickly to schools and reserves across the U.S. and Canada, and today there are dozens of tournaments dedicated to "rezball," acknowledged as a distinct, distinctly-aboriginal, style of play.

Born out of necessity, the adaptability and innovation of First Nations cultures too frequently go unrecognized, and the legacies of cultural exchange between aboriginals and non-aboriginals remain tangled and often painful, but both Kahm and Garneau strike a celebratory tone. They highlight the fruits of these complicated legacies while effortlessly demonstrating the dialogue is still ongoing -- the ball is still in play.

 

Steven Leyden Cochrane is a Winnipeg-based artist, writer, and educator.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 1, 2013 C14

Fact Check

Fact Check

Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories?
Please use the form below and let us know.

* Required
  • Please post the headline of the story or the title of the video with the error.

  • Please post exactly what was wrong with the story.

  • Please indicate your source for the correct information.

  • Yes

    No

  • This will only be used to contact you if we have a question about your submission, it will not be used to identify you or be published.

  • Cancel

Having problems with the form?

Contact Us Directly
  • Print

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective April 16, 2010.

letters

Make text: Larger | Smaller

LATEST VIDEO

Rinelle Harper and family thank man who found her

View more like this

Photo Store Gallery

  • JOE BRYKSA/WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Local- A large osprey lands in it's nest in a hydro pole on Hyw 59  near the Hillside Beach turnoff turn off. Osprey a large narrow winged hawk which can have a wingspan of over 54 inches are making a incredible recovery since pesticide use of the 1950's and  1960's- For the last two decades these fish hawks have been reappearing in the Lake Winnipeg area- Aug 03, 2005
  • A water lily in full bloom is reflected in the pond at the Leo Mol Sculpture Garden Tuesday afternoon. Standup photo. Sept 11,  2012 (Ruth Bonneville/Winnipeg Free Press)

View More Gallery Photos

About Steven Leyden Cochrane

Steven Leyden Cochrane is a Winnipeg-based artist, writer, and educator from Tampa, Fla.

Poll

Would you visit Dalnavert Museum if it reopened?

View Results

Ads by Google