Claiming Spaces: Voices of Urban Aboriginal Youth continues at the Museum of Anthropology through January 4, 2015.
Claiming Spaces: Voices of Urban Aboriginal Youth continues at the Museum of Anthropology through January 4, 2015.

Twenty-five young aboriginal artists from around the world are showcased in Claiming Spaces: Voices of Urban Aboriginal Youth, the new exhibition at the Museum of Anthropology (MOA) at UBC.

[pullquote]”The artworks are not only esthetically beautiful and the craftsmanship so amazing, but the pieces are also so very poignant.” – co-curator Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers[/pullquote]A unique look at contemporary art viewed through the lens of indigenous youth, the exhibition brings together artists, aged 15 to 25, from across Canada, the United States, Norway and New Zealand.

Co-curating the exhibition with the MOA’s Pam Brown, who has run the museum’s native youth program for 35 years, Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers, herself a filmmaker and member of Blackfoot and Sami (Norweigan) heritage, says they were both surprised by the sheer number of pieces that were submitted.

“We didn’t think it was going to be so big, but it turned into this major exhibition because the quality of the work is so incredible. The artworks are not only esthetically beautiful and the craftsmanship so amazing, but the pieces are also so very poignant. They all had something very strong to say,” she says.

Billed as a “thought-provoking and radical exhibition” the art doesn’t shy away from being political, something Tailfeathers says is difficult to do when exploring themes of aboriginal identity these days.

“We’re in a very politicized climate in Canada right now and a lot is happening around aboriginal and non-aboriginal relations,” says Tailfeathers. “On one hand we had expected there to be political messages through the works, but perhaps not to the degree that we received.”

According to Tailfeathers, the exhibition provides urban aboriginal youth with a space for them to speak to their daily reality. “They are carrying the world on their shoulders and we know they have lots to say.”

And while the political nature of the pieces didn’t come as a huge surprise, what did was the number of pieces submitted by aboriginal women.

“About 80% of the work came from young women, which is quite surprising because if you look at established indigenous artists, it is still dominated by men,” says Tailfeathers. “And while there are some really great female aboriginal artists, the scene is still pretty heavy on the male side.”

Gender aside though, Tailfeathers hopes that those visiting the exhibit will come away with a stronger understanding of what it means to be an urban aboriginal youth in today’s world.

“What we and MOA have done is provide a space for these youth to speak honestly,” says Tailfeathers. “I hope that people walk away with a stronger understanding and that it is a catalyst for dialogue about what is going on with urban aboriginal youth.”

Claiming Spaces: Voices of Urban Aboriginal Youth continues at the Museum of Anthropology at the University of British Columbia (6393 NW Marine Dr) through January 4, 2015. Visit http://moa.ubc.ca for more information.