In paintings, a gentle portrait of Canada’s scars

A review of Sonny Assu: A Selective History.

  • Making a b-line to HaidaBucks, Salmonberry Frap #ftw #starbucksFAIL #lol, 2016, digital intervention on an Emily Carr painting (Yan, Q.C.I 1912), Archival Pigment Print, 33 x 22 inches.

    Sonny Assu, Courtesy of the Art and the Equinox Gallery
  • "They're coming! Quick! I have a better hiding place for you. Dorvan V, you'll love it." Digital Intervention on an A.Y. Jackson painting, 2015.

    Sonny Assu, Courtesy of the Art and the Equinox Gallery

A clash of cultures plays out in Sonny Assu’s artwork. The popular cereal “Frosted Flakes” becomes “Treaty Flakes,” with an ingredients list that reads: “sugar-coated lies, government bureaucracy, self-governance, land resources, broken promises, abandoning the past, securing the future.” Assu’s work, a decade of which is chronicled in Sonny Assu: A Selective History, traces his experience awakening to his Kwakwaka’wakw heritage while growing up in urban Vancouver, B.C.

The visually driven book highlights the artist’s work, with accompanying essays by contemporaries and Assu himself. Assu’s art leaps from medium to medium and includes graphic art, carvings, prints, photography and combinations of each.

“Framed by contributions from some of our brightest intellectuals, Sonny Assu’s canvas is more than an examination of how Indigenous Peoples respond to the Canadian experience,” writes the Haida artist and lecturer Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas. “His witty and gentle hand offers Canada a mirror to consider its own scarred identity.”

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