Where does art intersect with land-claim agreements? Just look to this hot pink moose.
Bull’s Eye is part of Lianne Marie Leda Charlie’s contribution to the Yukon Arts Centre’s 2018 exhibit, To Talk With Others, which heads south to the Victoria Art Gallery this November.
The life-sized moose model is made of styrofoam, plywood, and chicken wire with a papier-mâché hide assembled from copies of the Yukon’s Umbrella Final Agreement. The contrast is immediate, but the implications are far-reaching. Her ancestors’ decisions were affected by the seasons, by availability, and by access to nature. Where the moose went, they followed. Territory these days, however, is defined by contracts drawn up in Ottawa.
“The land held our laws and stories and relationships with it,” says Charlie. “Now, we turn to paper.”
Charlie is from Carmacks, and a descendant of the Tagé Cho Hudän, Northern Tutchone-speaking people of the Yukon. She currently resides in Whitehorse where she teaches political science at Yukon College, studying the role art can play in creative understandings of Indigenous governance.
Bull’s Eye’s sheer size and hot-pink hide make it one of the artist’s most arresting works. The moose was composed over six weeks with the assistance of 30 others, including youth artist
Teya Rear. Charlie and her collaborators also created a paper ‘hide’ for the same exhibit, made from a land-claims map stretched out on a frame. It evokes the moment in the hide-tanning process where flesh is scraped from skin and asks whether the paper will be strong enough to support the people depending on it.
“Can a modern treaty do for us what a real moose was already doing in that ancestral governance model?” she asks. “Can a modern treaty feed, clothe, house us in the way a moose does and did?”
Colour is one of the visual artist’s strongest weapons. Just gaze upon the symphony of paints on public murals she’s helped create with the communities of Annie Lake, Mayo, and the Kwanlin Dün First Nation. Even her digital prints are painted in strong, brazen colours: bright purples and radiant fuchsias. There’s an accessibility to those hues, she says. The colours “draw you in.” A hot pink moose invites curiosity.
Vibrant colours can also bring beauty to otherwise painful events. On Charlie’s Instagram are digital prints she’s crafted honouring the memories of murdered Indigenous youth and residential school survivors. The pain and violence of those heartbreaking stories are juxtaposed against a saturated palette of lime greens and neon blues.
“I picked those colours out of this desire to convey beauty and love and joy,” she says. “These things that media love to not associate with native people. I wanted to challenge that.”
She also wants to challenge outside audiences who think they can determine what is and isn’t Indigenous art. It’s not just beadwork, soapstone carvings, or sewn-together hides. Digital illustrations are Indigenous art. A papier-mâché moose is Indigenous art. A collage of images cut out and reassembled are, in particular, Charlie’s art.
It's a methodology that she discovered in university. Collage is something that can be seen in Charlie’s paper, mural and print work. It operates in both a material and a metaphorical format. Collage is, after all, just a different way of assembling ideas. It’s about taking something fragmented and putting it back together in a revelatory way.
“I just see so much room in there to help us think through these complexities,” she says. “To be disconnected is part of an Indigenous experience.”