Sarah Frey | July 1, 2018

When we think about Canada as a country, it is impossible to pin-point any specific visual identity. For some, it’s the work of the Group of Seven, for others it’s the iconic block printing of the high Arctic, and for many Canadians their grandmother’s beadwork defines their Canadian experience.

For this reason, Canada’s National Gallery spans a diverse set of works from coast, to coast, to coast. As of 2010, the Yukon Territory became a part of that collection. This weekend, as we celebrate Canada’s 151st birthday, the Yukon Arts Centre takes the opportunity to explore and share what Yukon works form part of how we define ourselves as a nation.

Doug Smarch Jr. is a member of the Teslin Tlingit Nation. Raised in the traditional lifestyle, Smarch learnt carving from his community before going on to attend the Institute of American Indian Arts. Smarch accomplished multiple post-secondary achievements in fine arts, before moving back to his home in the Yukon.

In 2004, Smarch debuted a series of work titled Lucinations. Smarch utilized the computer program Maya for the 3D rendered animation and created a 12x20 feather screen. It was based on a Teslin legend which talks about a man who when looking for a lost relative, his spirit was turned into a fox so that he would be able to travel much faster. While traveling the man could see a cloud hanging over the town, and warned the community that a great change would come. Soon after the Alaska Highway was built, which did indeed forever change the culture and community of Teslin.

The National Gallery of Canada acquired Lucinations for Canada’s Permanent Collection in 2010. When exhibited, the animation is played on the feather screen.

Lucinations (detail), 2004, photo by Scott Benesiinaabandan (Winnipeg Art Gallery)

In 2015, the National Gallery of Canada made its second, and last Yukon acquisition. Kaska Dene Nation artist, Joseph Tisiga, created a series of sculptures, paintings, and drawings that challenge and explore issues around racial identity, historicism, and tropes of representation. Using surrealism, humour, and a distinct aesthetic, Tisiga turns the watercolour medium (traditionally used by settlers to depict Indigenous peoples) on its head to take control of identity.

Some of the memorable works that now lives in the Ottawa collection is the posters series The Game is Not a Game, 2014 (cover image, detail, courtesy of the artist), and the watercolour An improbable explanation to an unlikely story, 2014.

Tisiga has gone on to continue creating work that is exhibited across Canada and the North.


An improbable explanation to an unlikely story, 2014, image courtesy of the artist.

The Yukon’s artistic community continues to grow with incredible works are being created every year. As we continue seeking to define who we are as Yukoners and Canadians, many of the contemporary works we see in our community today, may one day be acquired by the National Collection.

So on this Canada Day, the Yukon Arts Centre asks you to consider what art defines you in your nationhood. Whether it’s your First Nation, or your Commonwealth Nation, art seeks to tell the story of who we are. Only you can deicide what that story is.