ARTS CORNER: Poster show packs pop-culture punch

Happiest Future, by Sonny Assu. Digital print, 45.7 x 91.4 cm, 2012.  - Image courtesy of the artist
Happiest Future, by Sonny Assu. Digital print, 45.7 x 91.4 cm, 2012.
— image credit: Image courtesy of the artist

Sonny Assu has spent much of his artistic career challenging traditions, assumptions and stereotypes, and the same can be said for his recent works, which appear in the Burnaby Art Gallery’s latest show.

Assu, a North Delta-raised 2002 Emily Carr University graduate, joins 26 local, national and international artists (like the Guerrilla Girls, Rodney Graham, Ed Ruscha and Ian Wallace) for the Artist Poster Show at the gallery, which kicks off Feb. 8. Drawn primarily from the gallery’s permanent collection, the showcase explores the didactic evolution of artist exhibition posters.

“Posters are nostalgia for me,” said Assu. “I’m reminded of my youth and how I tried to cover every square inch of wall space with some sort of poster. On the other hand, posters are also motivational. Posters can be a way to communicate a strong message and unify a group of people.”

In Happiest Future (2012), Selective History (2012) and Idle Know More (2013, a newly commissioned artwork for the BAG), Assu questions what it is to be Canadian. His works tackle issues of identity and in the case of the latter, of course, the Idle No More movement.

“Idle No More, in my mind, is about educating Canadians on the true history of Canada,” explains Assu. “Not to guilt or shame, but to wake people up, to challenge Canadians to utilize the perceived stereotype of themselves, to understand and to be compassionate.”

Inspired by words of Duncan Campbell Scott, the former head of the Department of Indian Affairs, Happiest Future and Selective History addresses Canada’s then mandate for First Nations assimilation.

“As I was discovering my traditional roots and voice, I couldn’t ignore that I grew up in the suburbs of a major city,” says Assu, who is Ligwilda’xw of the We Wai Kai Nation. “The ’80s were all about the object: the owning of something new and exciting Consumerism became a status symbol. If you grew up in that era, you were constantly marketed to. The use of pop culture, and eventually, consumerism, became a way to insert an autobiographical discourse into my work.”

The Artist Poster Show runs Feb. 8 to April 7. A number of Idle Know More posters by Sonny Assu will also be available for free at the gallery.



• Carmen Lam is marketing coordinator at the Burnaby Art Gallery.

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