Beat Nation: Art, Hip Hop and Aboriginal Culture

21 March – 18 May, 2014

Jordan Bennett, Turning Tables, 2010, walnut, oak, spruce, audio

Maria Hupfield, Jingle Boots, 2011, felt, jingles.
Courtesy of the artist
Photo: Rachel Topham, Vancouver Art Gallery

Sonny Assu, Ellipsis, 2012 (detail view), copper, series of 136

Organized and circulated by the Vancouver Art Gallery, based on an initiative of grunt gallery, co-curated by Kathleen Ritter, Associate Curator (former), Vancouver Art Gallery and Tania Willard, a Secwepemc artist, designer and curator.

This exhibition was made possible with the generous support of Mark McCain and Caro MacDonald / Eye and I, The Audain Foundation for the Visual Arts, Gary R. Bell, Rick Erickson and Donna Partridge.

This exhibition is shared with Saint Mary’s University Art Gallery and mounted in the two respective gallery spaces.

Beat Nation describes a generation of artists who juxtapose urban youth culture with Aboriginal identity to create innovative and unexpected new works—in painting, sculpture, installation, performance and video—that reflect the current realities of Aboriginal
peoples today.

Since the early 1990s, hip hop has been a driving force of activism for urban Aboriginal youth in communities across the continent. The roots of this music have been influential across disciplines and have been transformed to create dynamic forums for storytelling and indigenous languages, as well as new modes of political expression. In the visual arts, artists remix, mash up and weave together the old with the new, the rural with the urban, traditional and contemporary as a means to rediscover and reinterpret Aboriginal culture within the shifting terrain of the mainstream.

While this exhibition takes its starting point from hip hop, it branches out to refer to pop culture, graffiti, fashion and other elements of urban life. Artists create unique cultural hybrids that include graffiti murals with Haida figures, sculptures carved out of skateboard decks, abstract paintings with form-line design, live video remixes with Hollywood films, and hip hop performances in Aboriginal dialects, to name a few. Beat Nation brings together artists from across the continent—from the West Coast as far north as Alaska and Nunavut, as far east as Labrador and south to New Mexico—and reveals the shared connections between those working in vastly different places.

As Aboriginal identity and culture continue to change, and as artists reinvent older traditions to form new modes of expression, their commitment to politics, to storytelling, to Aboriginal languages, to the land and rights remains constant, whether these are stated with drum skins or turntables, natural pigments or spray paint, ceremonial dancing or break dancing.

The artists in the exhibition are: Jackson 2bears, KC Adams, Sonny Assu, Bear Witness, Jordan Bennett, Raymond Boisjoly, Corey Bulpitt, Kevin Lee Burton, Raven Chacon, Dustinn Craig, Nicholas Galanin, Maria Hupfield, Mark Igloliorte, Cheryl L’Hirondelle, Duane Linklater, madeskimo, Dylan Miner, Kent Monkman, Marianne Nicolson, Skeena Reece, Hoka Skenandore, and Rolande Souliere.

The presentation of Beat Nation at the Dalhousie Art Gallery and Saint Mary’s University Art Gallery has been made possible in part through a grant from the Museums Assistance Program, Department of Canadian Heritage.