This touring exhibition, organized by the Audain Art Museum in Whistler, BC, entitled Somebody Nobody Was…features Joseph Tisiga’s most recent efforts to push the cultural boundaries of what it means to be a person of First Nations decent in the twenty-first century. Tisiga makes reference to an ongoing performance narrative known as the Indian Brand Corporation, while adopting faux Native artefacts created by Oliver Jackson, an English-born craftsman, directly into this exhibition. Among the most experimental works presented at the Musee d’art de Joliette are Tisiga’s new assemblages that include a range of found objects, plaster-cast cigarette butts, and painted golf balls mounted on artificial turf panels.
Read wall labels
Organized by the Audain Art Museum, Whistler, B.C. with the support of the Canada Council for the Arts and Polygon Homes, Vancouver.
Images in the banner
Joseph Tisiga, view of the exhibition Somebody Nobody Was…, Musée d’art de Joliette, 2020. Photo : Paul Litherland.
Joseph Tisiga (1984 – )
For most of his career Joseph Tisiga resided in Whitehorse, however this past summer he relocated to Montreal and has been producing new work from his apartment-studio. Tisiga studied at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design in Halifax for a few years and upon returning to the Yukon was employed as a social worker. His paintings, photographs, collages and installations have been featured in major group exhibitions including Oh Canada at MASS MoCA in Massachusetts in 2013 and he is among the over 70 artists in the current National Gallery of Canada exhibition of contemporary international Indigenous art entitled Abadakone. Tisiga was a finalist in the 2009 RBC Painting Competition, a REVEAL Indigenous Art Award winner in 2017 and a Sobey Art Award winner in 2020. His art is featured in public and private collections across Canada and he is represented by Bradley Ertaskiran Gallery of Montreal.
Curatorial Text —
For most of his career Joseph Tisiga resided in Whitehorse, however this past summer he relocated to Montreal and has been producing new work from his apartment-studio. Tisiga studied at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design in Halifax for a few years and upon returning to the Yukon in 2015 was employed as a social worker. The Somebody Nobody Was… touring exhibition of recent work by Joseph Tisiga examines the complexities of identity through a variety of processes that include performance photography, assemblage and redeployment. Such a trajectory represents a new move for this artist, as he is best known in Canada for the peculiar narrative qualities of his watercolour and oil paintings. Perhaps the art encountered by visitors here can best be described as the effort of a bricoleur, who makes and presents objects in a somewhat ad hoc fashion.
Tisiga’s aesthetic strategy for Somebody Nobody Was… thus parallels his larger considerations of how individual and collective identities are formed as well as enunciated. The idea that a person or people is/are an admixture of their respective past can be communicated in many ways. This artist leverages his Kaska Dena ancestry to bring forth a voice rooted in Indigenous North American traditions, and yet one that is positioned in a constructive relationship to consumerist social values of Western European origin.
The No Home in Scorched Earth series of large scale performance photographs wrapped in plastic evoke Tisiga’s autobiographical search for a personal Kaska Dena definition in an environment that has been purposefully devastated. Such imagery also references a common colonial tactic of scorching locales as a prelude to exercising dominion over the land, animals, and Indigenous inhabitants. Similarly, the Masks, Maps and Camps assemblages represent the vestiges of human occupation, mapping references and storytelling guises through an eclectic combination of found materials and manufactured objects. Plaster-cast hand-painted cigarette butts and artificial turf are the constants of this series that allude to the human passage of time and/or conversations during the act of smoking, while the plastic grass is a stand in for First Nations’ territories.
The grouping of works created by Oliver Jackson (1899 – 1982) on pedestals with roughly made covers at the Musée d’art de Joliette are intended to unsettle the exclusiveness of Tisiga’s own artistic production. He uses these faux “Indian” artefacts made by Jackson, an Englishman who operated a private roadside “Indian Museum” just outside Kelowna, BC for decades, as an admixture to his own Indigenous identity. Such a perplexing twist of cultural delineation is amplified by the fact that Jackson’s entire artistic output is now part of the Sncewips Museum’s permanent collection. This institution, operated by the Westbank First Nation, holds thousands of pieces by the Englishman who was born in Norfolk, England in 1899 and died in British Columbia in 1982. Nothing is easy to define in the recent bodies of work presented herein by Joseph Tisiga and like the latent suggestion of exhibition’s title: Somebody Nobody Was…, any attempt to do so is futile.