Fubar humour meets First Nations history in the wry artworks of Calgary's Terrance Houle. His unique approach is earning the Blackfoot/Ojibwa artist increasing notice, with shows now on at New York's National Museum of the American Indian and Toronto's Art Gallery of York University. (Seriously, he's a busy guy! Also showed at SAW Gallery's Art Star video fest this fall and performed at Gallery 101.) So I was thankful Houle took time to chat with me about a few aspects of his work recently. The resulting Q&A, condensed for space, was published in today's National Post. Here's an excerpt:
Q It seems like you're everywhere this fall. How are you dealing with your increasing success?
A The biggest thing I get out of it is meeting people and finding out the impact that the work has on them. That's the reason I got into this, to advocate for First Nations people in my own way. Also, I grew up an army brat and powwow dancer, so it's like getting back to my old days of travelling all over the place and performing.
Q What do you most want to advocate for in terms of First Nations?
A Our position within North America, especially in the West, where I live. In Calgary, our presence as aboriginals is sort of there but sort of not. It's in the roadways: There's Deerfoot Highway and Crowchild Trail. But does anybody really know who Deerfoot is? That he was the runner who ran between forts and was a messenger? And the answer is no, a lot of people don't know that. I find that really odd.
Q How do you deal with diversity within the First Nations community? Some of your art plays on related tensions, like urban vs. rural or traditional vs. contemporary.
A Yeah, that's something drawn from my own experience. I grew up being called an "apple" whenever I went to my reserve, which is like, you're white on the inside and red on the outside. It's a derogatory term trying to say, "Well, are you native enough?"
And y'know, this didn't make it into the interview, but I'm serious about the Fubar connection. Not only does Houle have a lot of humour in his work (something we discuss later in the interview) but the name for his current touring show, GIVN'R, came about when he was hanging out with Dave Lawrence, who plays Terry in the movie. Houle says that while the term had joke qualities, it also "kind of fit my career. It’s just the [distillation] of the last 4 to 6 years: working hard and partying hard. And we’re prairie boys and grew up always saying it." Houle has also helped Lawrence out--specifically with representations of native people in Lawrence's upcoming film A Legend of Whitey. Like, small world, eh?
If you're in the GTA want to see Houle's work in person, get thee to the AGYU, where Houle's GIVN'R closes on December 5. And if you want a look anywhere, it's worth checking out the NMAI's online exhibition for HIDE, which features Houle's work.
**UPDATE** Soon after I posted a link to this Q&A on Twitter, artist Duane Linklater (@duanelinklater) raised a valid criticism that I thought was worth sharing here:
"Going off the reserve" its really called that? nice interview but really? RT @leahsandals My Q&A... National Post - http://bit.ly/fTY9Od
This was my response:
@duanelinklater Totally fair critique, Duane. Unfortunately, I don't get to write those headlines. Usu. Editors of publications pen those.
@duanelinklater I hope it's clear in my last tweet that I think *your* critique is valid, not any critique implied by the headline!
@duanelinklater If you have any other thoughts or concerns, pls let me know. Letter to the editor is another good option for lots of readers
Obviously I need to be a little more concise in my responses! Anyway, it's all to say that I appreciate Duane's concern. If anyone has other worries, critiques or comments, please feel free to let me know via twitter, blog comment, email or otherwise. I also mentioned letters to the editor (as I have in the past around reader concerns for any publication) because it's a way to let those in charge know directly how you are feeling about their publication.
(Image from Houle's Urban Indian series from Musée d'art de Joliette)
Wednesday, December 1, 2010
Posted by Leah Sandals at 9:04 PM