Being in Place
Bridget Reweti, Debra Sparrow, Shannon Te Ao, Kamala Todd
May 12 — June 2, 2018
Reception May 11, 8:00 PM
Curated by Paula Booker

Being in Place brings together four artists from territories an ocean apart who tell stories about place. Installations by Māori artists Shannon Te Ao (Ngāti Tuwharetoa) and Bridget Reweti (Ngāti Ranginui, Ngāi Te Rangi) unravel colonial histories and express guardianship using performance and experimental moving image. The works of these artists from across the Pacific, from Aotearoa New Zealand, will be seen through and alongside the local voices, images and narratives of xʷməθkwəy̓əm (Musqueam) artist Debra Sparrow and Vancouver-born Métis/Cree/German filmmaker, Kamala Todd. What is generated by bringing together the work of artists from two distinct places and putting them in dialogue? How do we relate to land and place as both a host and a guest? Common visual languages and approaches emerge as the exhibition loosely weaves together these common threads of relationships to place.

Stories contain – and storytelling expresses – Indigenous knowledge. These stories are not simply representative of, but constitutive of relationships between peoples and places. As such, they express Indigenous ways of being and offer powerful commentary for considering a variety of relationships to our environment.

In this exhibition, the artists and their contextual relations to place are activated through a variety of narrative and graphic methods that evoke context and relationships, among and between people and space. Each of these artists make work not just about place, but in dialogue with specific sites and their cultural histories. As Altamirano-Jimenez and Parker write: “place is defined not merely by physical location but also by a sense of belonging to that place and by the practices that shape people’s livelihoods and social relations.” The artists Reweti, Sparrow, Te Ao and Todd use storytelling to manifest visual sovereignty.


Bridget Reweti is an artist from Ngāti Ranginui and Ngāi Te Rangi in Tauranga Moana, Aotearoa. Her lens-based practice explores landscape perspectives and contemporary Indigenous realities. Currently based in Wellington, Reweti holds a Masters in Māori Visual Arts, (First Class Honours) through Massey University, and a PGDip in Museum and Heritage Studies from Victoria University. She is also an active member of Kava Club, a Wellington-based collective of Māori and Pacific artists, performers, activists and supporters that produce thematic public events that disrupt formulaic modes of representation of minorities. Reweti has a collaborative practice with Mata Aho Collective, a collaboration between four Māori women artists who produce large-scale textile works, commenting on the complexity of Māori lives. For documenta 14, Mata Aho developed Kiko Moana, a large textile installation with an accompanying website of taniwha (water guardian) narratives supplied by family and friends of the Collective. These narratives sit alongside Kiko Moana to acknowledge the many diverse ways taniwha exist, highlighting the multiplicity of Indigenous knowledge. Bridget is currently Artist in Residence in Cemeti – Institute of Art and Society, Yogyakarta, Indonesia and Mata Aho Collective have been selected for the 2019 Honolulu Biennial.

Debra Sparrow was born and raised in the Musqueam Village at the mouth of the Fraser River. A Musqueam weaver, artist and knowledge keeper, Sparrow is self-taught in Salish design, weaving and jewellery making. Debra is an acclaimed weaver who has been weaving for thirty years and is a leading figure in the revival of Musqueam Coast Salish. Her work can be seen in various museums and institutions including Vancouver Airport, The Royal BC Museum, Victoria, Vancouver International Airport, and the Museum of Anthropology at UBC where she recently participated in the exhibition The Fabric of Our Land: Salish Weaving. Debra designed the logo for the Canadian Men’s Hockey Team for the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games in Vancouver, BC. She continues to work on pieces close to her heart at her home in Musqueam. It is Debra’s hope to educate others about the beauty and integrity of her people’s history through her art. Debra is guided by her ancestors in her weaving practice: “when I stand in front of my loom and I’m working and creating, I’m with them, I’m not here anymore. I’m back in time and I’m thinking of the women and they’re whispering to me and guiding me.”

Sydney, Australia born Shannon Te Ao (Ngāti Tūwharetoa) is currently based in Wellington, New Zealand. Working predominantly within performance and video-based practices his recent artistic enquiry has seen him draw from a range existing literary material including Māori lyrical sources found in whakataukī (Māori proverb) and waiata (Māori song), using these as exploratory device into various social and political constructs. Within moving image installation, live performances and other textual based output, he uses language in the form of short poetic text, prose or song to offset a given site or activity. In 2016, Shannon was awarded The Walters Prize, New Zealand’s most prestigious art prize. He is currently has a solo exhibition at The Dowse Art Museum, Lower Hutt; my life as a tunnel. Recent solo exhibitions include With the sun aglow, I have my pensive moods, curated by Bruce E. Phillips and Sorcha Carey for The Edinburgh Art Festival; tenei ao kawa nei, Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetu; two shoots that stretch far out, Taipei Contemporary Art Centre; and te huka o te tai, Artspace Auckland. Shannon was selected for the 19th Biennale of Sydney (2014). He currently lectures at Whiti o Rehua School of Art, Massey University, Wellington.

Kamala Todd is a grateful guest born and raised in the beautiful lands of the hən̓q̓əmin̓əm̓ and Skwxwú7mesh-speaking people (also known as Vancouver). She is a community planner, filmmaker, writer and curator with a Master’s degree in cultural Geography (UBC). For six years she was the City of Vancouver’s Aboriginal Social Planner. Kamala’s film credits include Indigenous Plant Diva, Cedar and Bamboo, RELAW: Living Indigenous Laws, Sharing our Stories: the Vancouver Dialogues Project and many others. In 2015 she created a video series about Indigenous law for UVic’s Indigenous Law Research Unit. Kamala writes and directs for children’s television, including the Indigenous science series Coyote’s Crazy Smart Science Show on APTN. She is the author of “This many-storied land” in the 2016 book, In This Together: Fifteen Stories of Truth and Reconciliation. She recently completed a report for the Vancouver Board of Parks and Recreation entitled Truth-Telling: Indigenous Perspectives on Working with Municipal Governments.

New Zealand curator Paula Booker brings her training as an artist to her practice. In 2004, she founded experimental space Canary Gallery in Auckland. She has edited and contributed to several art publications, and was Writer & Publications Manager at Enjoy Gallery, Wellington. At the New Zealand Film Archive, Paula curated public screenings and exhibitions, testing and extending ideas with audiences and time. In 2015 she completed a Bachelor of Media Arts Honours (First Class) at Wintec, exploring affect theory in relation to exhibition making. Since 2016, Paula has been a grateful visitor on Coast Salish Territories, in the Critical and Curatorial Studies program at UBC, recently curating projects at AHVA Gallery and for Capture with Richmond Public Art. She is Curatorial Assistant at Richmond Art Gallery and on the Board of UNIT/PITT Projects.

Paula produced the film Woven featuring Debra Sparrow in the exhibition, tracing the resurgence of Coast Salish weaving, upholding traditions and relationships with the land. “As a curator of Anglo-Saxon heritage, from the South Pacific, my narrative of settling figures into erasure of Indigenous narratives of place, both at home and in my new home. This exhibition is an opportunity to bring to the fore territorial relationships and uphold sovereignty.”

Isabel Altamirano-Jimenez and Leanne Parker, “Mapping, Knowledge, and Gender in the Atlantic Coast of Nicaragua,” in Living on the Land: Indigenous Women’s Understanding of Place (Edmonton: AU Press, 2016): 89.
Jeanette Armstrong, “Land Speaking,” in Read, Listen, Tell: Indigenous Stories from Turtle Island (Waterloo: Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 2017): 146.
Emilie Cameron, Far Off Metal River: Inuit Lands, Settler Stories and the Making of the Contemporary Arctic (Toronto: UBC Press, 2015), 12.

Image: “Irihanga,” Briget Reweti, Installation detail (2017)

Being in Place is presented with support from the Killy Foundation and the Audain Endowment for Curatorial Studies through the Department of Art History, Visual Art and Theory in collaboration with the Morris and Helen Belkin Art Gallery at The University of British Columbia.

The Or Gallery acknowledges its presence on unceded xwməθkwəy̓əm (Musqueam), Skwxwú7mesh (Squamish) and Səl̓ílwətaʔ/Selilwitulh (Tsleil-Waututh) territories.

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