Naasḳuu-isaḳs, Shaunee Casavant
Chief Councillor, Hupacasath Nation
Painted on cotton, these are amongst the largest (up to 3 metres high x 10 metres long) portable two-dimensional paintings in the world. Historical ancestral exploits and episodes from family histories, conflicts, captures and alliances are seen in these striking narrative works. The Nuuchaanulth were the first people Europeans encountered when Captain James Cook landed at Yuquot in 1778 in what is now British Columbia. Though much of the art of the Northwest Coast has come to be associated with poles and carvings of the Haida and Kwakwaka’wakw, the Nuuchaanulth have made and used ceremonial curtains for thousands of years on the west coast of what is now called Vancouver Island.
Each curtain has been painted following the instructions from a family needing it to tell the ‘backstory’, its history and spiritual pedigree, that will enhance and validate the ceremony of naming, celebrating a marriage, mourning, or reconciling. Curtains were originally painted using locally derived pigments, including charcoal, ochre and other minerals, on cedar planks or panels. The prohibitions on First Nations ceremonies that derived from the 1885 Indian Act meant that these events were driven underground, hidden from view. It was during this period that some of the fine older examples in this exhibition found their way into public and private collections around the world. But the Nuuchaanulth never stopped creating and displaying the stories that formed the backdrop to the most important events of their lives, although they were now using sail cloth or cotton so that they could be folded up and hidden from the Indian Agents, if necessary.
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