Sunday, 31 January 2010

MOA Museum of Anthropology, Vancouver

Our Anthropology Museum at the University of British Columbia, Canada is world class. The architect was Arthur Erickson - it perches on a cliff overlooking the Strait of Georgia. The building is concrete, but found its inspiration from the Big House built by the First Nations people on the coast. On the grounds, there are examples of the Big House made of huge wood logs with cedar planking and totem poles from different cultures.

Below is an historic photo that is contained within an etched glass 'bentwood' box, lit from below. It focuses the viewer on old and new methods of illustrating design. Marianne Nicholson a the Kwakwaka' wakw artist, "Archives are now containers of our histories, and we are engaged in a dance of discovery and display: the pursuit and elusiveness of our cultural history". Our coastal First Nations people had a rich culture of storytelling, dance, art and customs. Below is one of the poles that was moved to the campus in the 1960's to be copied and preserved. There is some controversy about this. The First Nations would have let the pole live it's life, including decay which nourishes new growth.The Museum of Anthropology has had a major addition and remodeling. The opening was in January 2009. As you walk in, there is a beautiful granite mosaic - a modern interpretation of the sea creatures. You can explore many ancient art pieces from Canada and other pacific rim cultures. The carved stone head is identified by number and detail can be looked up in the museum index.The modern art work below is of many plastic canoes that 'sail' through the corridors and hang in front of this art piece - Gu Xiong, explains that the installation is about migration and risk, "How cultures intertwine through personal journeys and move together into a new space". They constantly move.The echo of World Rhythms were heard through the MOA: Hari Pal, Peppe Danza, Mbuyiselo Ncapayi, Raphael geronimo, Divaa Drummers and Xwalacktun.
We attended the dance presentations of three groups from the West Coast of British Columbia.
Each First Nations group has its own style in customs, stories, dances and art. Our coastal people had some of the most advanced abstract art of indigenous people, worldwide. Unfortunately, the 'discovery' of North America by the Europeans brought many misconceptions that led to suppression of the cultures. In recent decades, the elders have worked with the young to bring back the culture.

Three dance presentations marked the MOA re-opening ceremonies: Musqueam Warriors (we didn't see this group); Le La La Dancers, Git Hayetsk Dancers, Nisga'a, Tsimshian, Gitxsan, Haida, Tlingit, Haisla: dancers of the Damelahamid, Gitxsan. Before each of the dance groups presented, they thanked the Musqueam Native People for allowing them to dance in their territory. The dance often marked a major change in the life of the people: the birth, coming of age, marriage or death of a clan member. The First Nations Drum music plays a powerful part in the dance. Many are deer hide stretched over a round frame. Some are large drums that a circle of men sit around and drum in unison. Others are box drums. They all have a powerful heartbeat rhythm and are accompanied by chant or narrative.
The masks are carved from cedar and the heavier masks are in the men's dances. The transformation masks can be manipulated, including changing the front part of the mask - creating a different animal. Some masks opened to reveal a different creature.When a change is necessary, the women gather around and shield the view with beautiful appliqued button blankets, worn as a cape.Most creatures are from nature and may be represent by specific clans.Some creatures are mythical, based on stories passed on by song, narrative or dance. All ages are represented from young to elders.Some of the stories include powerful tricksters who brought about changes.One of the dances was to commemorate a change. A young Tsimshian woman who had completed a university degree made a presentation to her professor. She danced to 'own' her new status and have it recognized by her people.This dance group danced from the heart! This young woman was honoured by her people.The women's dances are sometimes to 'cleanse' the dance area before the main dancers come. Sometimes it was to tell a story. Here, several dancers whirled on the stage to show the power of the north wind.I hesitated to post these photos. My intent is to showcase the beauty and depth of the culture. I want to emphasize that the art is owned by the artist and clan. West Coast Native art is unique and is not to be reproduced for profit by anyone other than those who own the design. It was my honour to be present at this event. If you are ever able to attend a Potlach or dance presentation, you will understand the power of the dance and the beauty of the art.
note: many of the dance photos are by my husband.

Click on links to other posts for MOA

Mar 27, 2012
Doug's sister, Gloria Cramner Webster spoke of her brother as a gentle man who pushed boundaries. Gloria is an Anthropologist and at one time worked at MOA as well as being on the Board of Directors of the Canadian ...
Dec 03, 2010
MOA -Museum of Anthropology, UBC. Rainy day in Vancouver? Or, just bored? Here is a place to spend the whole day! The sidewalk will greet you with a mosaic of modern designs. I have long been fascinated by these little ...


Gloria said...

I enjoyed your photos, Vivian! I love West Coast art and have always wanted to sew something into a quilt. In fact, I recently purchased a pattern by Lisa Moore of Sitka Alaska, featuring totem designs by Tlingit Wood Carver Tommy Joseph. Do you think they are in violation of their 'code'?

Also interesting is that I recently quilted a lonestar quilt, which is to be used in a potlatch ceremony. I am quite proud of the way I quilted it, but supposedly was not able to take any photos of it. You can appreciate how much I want to post it to my blog!

Florence said...

Hi Vivian,thank you for this report ! it's very interesting !
Last November I went to Paris with my daughter and I visited the museum "du quai Branly" ( where there are many of the magnificent objects but not the " real persons " as you saw!

Vivian said...

Note that the Northwest Coast designs are 'owned' by specific First Nation families. They have been passed down over the years. The dances are also significant to a family and only they have the right to perform the dance. We need to respect that ownership.
Gloria was paid to make a quilt and the purchaser retained the copyright.