Framing History: Indigenous Art at the Roundhouse

Curator, filmmaker and cultural planner Kamala Todd.

In 2017, a dialogue sparked between Vancouver Park Board Arts, Culture and Engagement (ACE) programmers and Métis-Cree curator, filmmaker and cultural planner, Kamala Todd. In consideration of the colonial history of the Roundhouse in relation to the land on which it is situated, the group wondered how to initiate the process of Indigenizing the Centre. The conversation culminated in the development of Framing History: Indigenous Art at the Roundhouse, a project with local Indigenous artists to set the historical narrative of the Roundhouse in a larger context of place—on unceded Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh lands.

Prior to her involvement in Framing History, Kamala worked with the City of Vancouver as the Aboriginal Social Planner from 2000-2006. During this time she launched Storyscapes, a project wherein Indigenous peoples could share their stories of the city. This project reflects Kamala’s interest in curation, which recognizes the colonial exclusion of Indigenous voices telling the stories of their lands and the relative lack of representation of Coast Salish artists in the Lower Mainland. There is a tenacity with which Kamala identifies exclusion and facilitates relationships between artists and gatekeepers to create space for Indigenous peoples to be seen and heard. This is evident in her contribution to Framing History.

In recognition of the need to Indigenize the colonial historical narrative of the Roundhouse, Kamala recommended having artists from Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh Nations express their culture, history and relationship to the land themselves, to contextualize this narrative.

“Artists have always been transformative in contemporary times, so having artists be part of telling this story and changing or decolonizing it is a powerful way to go.”

In selecting artists for the project, Kamala first connected with Debra Sparrow, a Musqueam weaver and artist, who has been instrumental in reviving Coast Salish weaving in the area. Her interest in working with Debra stemmed from an appreciation of her innovative approach. Steeped in a deep understanding of traditional weaving, Debra’s practice encourages new ways of thinking about the art form through use of material and placement. Debra then recommended Xuuyaah, a Squamish/Haida artist who is Musqeaum by lineage, and Kamala connected with Jordan Gallie of the Tsleil-Waututh Nation and Squamish by lineage, who has immersed himself in Coast Salish techniques and design.

Kamala cites projects such as Framing History as integral to the Park Board’s reconciliation strategy, however, she notes that it is important for the local Nations to be included actively in this ongoing process.

“I think that listening needs to continue and creating opportunities for the artists is amazing. But I also feel that the shift that’s needed for true reconciliation is that we need to get away from this idea that the City, Park Board, mainstream curators and art gallery owners are general arbitrators of what culture is. Reconciliation means decolonizing that power imbalance.”

Visitors can now see Scháyilhen by Xuuyaah and The Ripple Effect by Jordan Gallie installed on the columns in the Roundhouse foyer. Debra Sparrow is next to install, followed by a reception wherein Debra, Xuuyaah, Jordan and Kamala will have an opportunity to speak about the their work as part of the project.


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