As part of our mission, the Native Arts and Cultures Foundation (NACF) collaborates with Native artists and organizations committed to increasing awareness and deeper understanding of Indigenous arts and culture in various art disciplines. For the past three months the Center for Native Arts and Cultures (CNAC) gallery space was transformed for the Yale Union’s final exhibition A Feast of Light and Shadows, a symbolic potlach created by Marianne Nicolson and curated by Hope Svenson. Nicolson is an artist-activist of the Musgamakw Dzawada’enuxw First Nations, part of the Kwakwaka’wakw (Kwak’wala speaking peoples) of the Pacific Northwest Coast.
The historic building that now houses the Center for Native Arts and Cultures (CNAC) was built in 1905 for what was originally and industrial laundry—the Yale Union Laundry. At that time electric lighting was not widely available, so the building gallery’s large windows utilize every hour of daylight. Marianne Nicolson transformed the gallery into a Kwakwaka’wakw ceremonial space that evokes the feeling of being underwater. Blue-tinted decals on each window distort the sunlight creating movement within the gallery during the day. Watch a timelapse video of the exhibition here!
Enamelware bowls in the exhibition suggest a feast, a gathering, an offering to those in attendance. This type of bowl became part of potlatch rituals over time, serving as vessels for sharing food and goods, mimicking the Kwakwaka’wakw potlatches that were held despite a potlatch ban that was in effect in Canada from 1885 through 1951. Hanging above the feast bowls is a larger-than-life archival photograph of James Hamdzid standing next to a giant carved feast dish. Hamdzid was Nicolson’s great-great grandmother’s brother; his image looms above the feast bearing witness to and at the same time disrupting the settler-colonial model imposed by the Canadian government.
Click here to learn more about Kwakwaka’wakw culture, potlatch, the exhibition and Marianne Nicolson.
Marianne Nicolson (b. 1969, British Columbia) is an artist-activist of the Musgamakw Dzawada’enuxw First Nations, part of the Kwakwaka’wakw (Kwak’wala speaking peoples) of the Pacific Northwest Coast. She holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts from Emily Carr University of Art and Design (Vancouver, BC), a Master of Fine Arts from the University of Victoria (BC), as well as a Master of Arts in Linguistics and Anthropology and a PhD in Linguistics and Anthropology with a focus on space as expressed in the Kwak’wala language. As a First Nations artist, Nicolson works to bring poetry and beauty to highlight some of the most troubling issues of our time around colonization, dispossession, land rights, and cultural genocide. Trained in both traditional Kwakwaka’wakw forms and contemporary gallery- and museum-based practice, Nicolson centers the preservation of Indigenous cultural knowledge but presented in contemporary media, inviting access to First Nations traditional craft and public discourse around the importance of Indigenous autonomy. Her artwork acknowledges the colonial dispossession of Indigenous peoples from their lands and traditions, while celebrating the re-emergence and empowerment of Indigenous voices.