First Nations Art was originally intended for ceremonial purposes; the art was there to tell stories and legends, or to identify territories and families. Aboriginal Art has shifted, and for many years now it has been a vehicle used to preserve and sustain the culture after colonization. The art has sustained the people and provided the map to connect them back to their traditions. Recently, attitudes have begun to shift again, opening up avenues of respect and admiration for the integrity and depth of the work. Like any contemporary art, the work is ever-shifting, changing responsive to social, political, and environmental impacts both locally and globally.
Tradition to Contemporary
James is honoured to share the ancestral name of his father, Xwalacktun, and to be in a position to carry forward the pride and dignity of his people through his art. His work stands on the foundation of his experience growing up as a member of the Squamish nation and his affiliation with powerful Coast Salish leaders. In his art, James combines the use of modern tools, materials and techniques with deconstructed First Nations designs and forms to integrate the traditional with the contemporary. He is committed to continue the journey of self-discovery, while studying and responding to the voice developed through his ancestors’ way of creating. His artwork is attached to his own multi faceted identity, and also to a larger lineage of Aboriginal artists, dancers, weavers and thinkers that have shaped and formed Indigenous culture and art up until this moment in time.
In James’s work, he strives to honour the spirit in the wood and metals while combining traditional materials and designs in a contemporary manner. (Ex. metal totems, traditional design of heron cut into copper and mounted on yellow cedar). He works with tradition, innovation and community in response to his father’s theory that when art work comes to life, it gives a connection to the people, something concrete that can be shared.
At the same time, James has been investing in his art business, developing an individualized focus on ways of integrating the traditional with the contemporary. His current focus is three fold: using metal, light and traditional form-line to create totems and other contemporary works, carving yellow and red cedar in traditional and abstract works, often larger than life, and working collaboratively with Lauren Brevner to create innovative carving/painting works that reflect First Nations stories while making a statement about the search for identity and wholeness.
Port Moody house post project
Found only on the Pacific Coast of North America, the Yellow Cedar is at its best in the mountainous coastal forests of British Columbia. James prefers to use yellow cedar for smaller carvings as it holds small detail more over red cedar. James sources his wood from the upper Squamish valley, often being supported by the Squamish Nation.
Red cedar is the foundation of our culture as it was used for dugout canoes, bentwood boxes, house planks, clothing, and many tools such as arrow shafts, masks, and paddles. The inner bark made rope, clothing, and baskets. The long arching branches were twisted into rope and baskets. It was also used for many medicines. James works in Red cedar when he has to work on larger totem pole projects.
Abalone shells are used for smudging ceremonies. They have also been used to highlight specific focal points in carvings. Because of its natural aesthetic of blues and greens, James has strategically used it as a stark contrast against both red and yellow cedar wood. In James' artworks he has used abalone shell as a highlight in the eyes of the animals in his works.
Throughout the coast, Copper was formed into the shape of a shield. Copper was often exchanged at higher values between chiefs at potlatch feasts. Coppers were particularly associated with the distribution of wealth at wedding feasts. First Nations along the coast used coppers as a marker and symbol of wealth, and some wealthy chiefs owned a dozen or more.
My father’s work has been recognized by the Squamish people and other Coast Salish nations and has made a significant difference provincially and globally in building community bridges. The power of his work has created a path for me to follow. He has helped me to develop an awareness of the importance of seeing health and strength in diversity rather than division and conflict.
There is honour and responsibility in carrying on the teachings of my people. The example that my father provides has led me toward a deeply felt connection to the past and the future of First Nations people. I have been tasked with honouring the legacy of intense spirituality, as well as with acknowledging the burden of the travesty of colonization and its aftermath. As a member of the younger generation, I am aware of the responsibility I have to acknowledge the damage that has affected indigenous peoples, to embrace the power and truth of Aboriginal traditions and to celebrate the beginning of reconciliation.
My personal professional goal is to continually challenge non-Native and Native assumptions of what is traditionally, spiritually and environmentally ethical. My goal is to create art that pushes the boundaries of First Nations cultural traditions. As a young First Nations person, I would like to honour and respect my traditional heritage. As a contemporary artist, I feel the urge and the need to create something new and different. I want to broaden the place held by Native art and culture in the world of contemporary art by using traditional and modern materials to create work that can speak to the integrity and power of traditional Aboriginal forms and shapes while challenging the audience to place indigenous art firmly within the art community at large.