Sonny Assu: A Fresh Perspective on the World of Contemporary Art
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Native American art has previously been out of the traditional scope of the art world; only recently has it begun to truly make its transition from the world of anthropology museums into the western contemporary art discourse. Even with this advancement and placement into the realm of contemporary art, most Native American art is grouped with the other worldly arts such as African, Meso-American, and Oceanic art; these world arts are often excluded from the galleries dedicated to the display of contemporary art. One artist has found a way to bypass this trend. Artist Sonny Assu, a Ligwilda’xw of the Kwakwaka’wakw nations melds the artistic traditions of his Ligwilda’xw background with contemporary art practices. His vibrant paintings link back to his First Nations heritage by combining Kwakwaka’wakw style with contemporary subject matter and materials. His paintings often adorn animal hide drums providing a sculptural aspect for Assu to explore as well as creating another link back to his Kwakwaka’wakw culture. By working in both the Native American and western contemporary art discourses, Assu has a chance to educate people about the struggles of the Kwakwaka’wakw people and ignite change within the Pacific Northwest Coast communities. The works of Sonny Assu spark conversation about First Nation peoples as well as pose important questions surrounding their history and treatment. Assu explores the role of the artist as an educator, the perpetuation of socio-cultural values of Native American people, and the function of totemic representation in the contemporary context. These central ideas shape his work and offer an important perspective on the concerns of contemporary indigenous artists.
Lucerna. Volume 10: p.12-29