UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Indian art/Aboriginal title Crosby, Marcia Violet


In 1967, the Vancouver Art Gallery held an exhibition entitled Arts of the Raven: Masterworks by the Northwest Coast Indian in celebration of Canada’s centennial. The following thesis discusses the way in which the curators of the Arts of the Raven exhibit constructed the Northwest Coast “Indian-Master” artist as a strategy that figured into a larger, shifting cultural field. The intention of the exhibit organizers was to contribute to the shift from ethnology to art. While this shift can be dated to the turn of the century, this thesis deals primarily with the period from 1958-1967, a decade described by the preeminent First Nations’ political leader, George Manuel, as the time of “the rediscovery of the Indian”. How the formation of an Indian-master artist (and his masterworks) intervened in art historical practice, and dovetailed with the meaning that the affix “Indian” carried in the public sphere, is considered. In the 1960s, this meaning was fostered, in part, through a reassessment of Canada’s history in preparation for the centennial. This event drew attention to the historical relationship between Canada and aboriginal peoples through public criticism of the government by public interest groups, Indian organizations, and civil rights and anti-poverty movements. The category of mastery, which functions as a sign of class, taste and prestige in European art canons, “included” the Indian under the rubric of white male genius. Yet the Indian as a sign of upward mobility was incommensurable with the Native reality in Canada at the time. In other words, the exhibit produced an abstract equality that eclipsed the concrete inequality most First Nations peoples were actually experiencing. This thesis concludes by arguing that the Arts of the Raven exhibit came to serve the important purpose of creating a space for the “unique individual-Indian” from which collective political First Nations voices would speak.

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