Past Exhibitions

BEAT NATION
Art, Hip Hop and Aboriginal Culture

February 25 to June 3, 2012


Skeena Reece
Raven: On the Colonial Fleet, 2010
digital photograph
Photo: Sebastian Kriete


Nicholas Galanin
Tsu Heidei Shugaxtutaan part 1 & 2, 2011
video stills
Courtesy of the artist


Sonny Assu
Silenced: The Harbinger #1, 2010
acrylic on hide drum
Courtesy of the artist and Equinox Gallery


Jordan Bennett
Turning Tables, 2010
sound installation, walnut, oak, spruce, electronics
Courtesy of the artist
Photo: Mark J. Bennett
Beat Nation reflects a generation of artists who juxtapose urban youth culture with Aboriginal identity in entirely innovative and unexpected ways. Using hip hop and other forms of popular culture, artists create surprising new cultural hybrids—in painting, sculpture, installation, performance and video—that reflect the changing demographics of Aboriginal people today.

In Vancouver, the unceded territories of the Coast Salish Nations have been a meeting ground for urban Aboriginal youth for decades and, since the early 1990s, hip hop has been a driving force of activism in the community. The roots of hip hop culture and music have been transformed into forms that echo current realities of young people, creating dynamic forums for storytelling and indigenous language, as well as new modes of political expression. This movement has been influential across disciplines—similar strategies appear in the visual arts where artists remix, mash-up and juxtapose the old with the new, the rural with the urban, traditional and contemporary as a means to rediscover and reinterpret Aboriginal culture within the shifting terrains of the mainstream.

While this exhibition takes its starting point from hip hop, it branches out to include artists who use pop culture, graffiti, fashion and other signifiers of urban life in combination with more traditional forms of Aboriginal identity. Artists create unique cultural hybrids that include graffiti murals with Haida figures, sculptures carved out of skateboard decks, abstract paintings with form-line design, live video remixes with Hollywood films, and hip hop performances in Aboriginal languages, to name a few. While focused on artists working along the West Coast, Beat Nation brings together artists from across the Americas and reveals the shared connections between those working in vastly different places.

As signifiers of Aboriginal identity and culture continue to shift and transform, and older traditions find renewed meaning in new forms of expression, one thing remains constant: a commitment to politics, to storytelling, to Aboriginal languages, to the land and rights, whether it be with drums skins or turntables, natural pigments or spray paint, ceremonial dancing or break dancing.

Organized by the Vancouver Art Gallery and based on an initiative of grunt gallery. Co-curated by Kathleen Ritter, associate curator, Vancouver Art Gallery, and Tania Willard, a Secwepemc artist, designer and curator.

Generously Supported by:
Mark McCain and Caro Macdonald / Eye and I

Gary Bell, Rick Erickson and Donna Partridge


The Audain Foundation         YVR

With additional support from the United States Consulate General in Vancouver

Media Sponsor:
The Vancouver Sun