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Joseph Tisiga presents a cutting-edge navigation of identity and self through an exhibition
Untitled (Test for “…the surface of the world seems to be cleansed of all superstitious and irrational elements. Whether, however, the real inner human world is also freed of primitivity is another question.”), 2014. Watercolour and collage on paper, 55.8 x 76.2 cm. Collection of Steven Wilson & Michael Simmonds. Image courtesy of Diaz Contemporary, Toronto. Photo: Toni Hafkenscheid.

WHISTLER, BC.- Whistler’s Audain Art Museum will open a new major exhibition featuring the contemporary work of Whitehorse-based Kaska Dena artist, Joseph Tisiga. Tales of an Empty Cabin: Somebody Nobody Was…, which runs from February 16 – May 6, 2019, is the artist’s first major museum show and presents a cutting-edge navigation of identity and self. It is also the first curatorial effort by the museum’s new Director & Chief Curator, Dr. Curtis Collins.

Since his national debut in Toronto in 2014, Tisiga’s work has been garnering steady acclaim. The exhibition at the Audain Art Museum will set the stage for his participation in the widely anticipated Armory Show in New York this spring.

Tales from an Empty Cabin: Somebody Nobody Was… includes new and remixed productions of Tisiga’s art, adding depth to his practice. Three new bodies of work are complemented by collages, oil paintings and watercolours borrowed from private and public collections across Canada including the National Gallery of Canada, RBC, Yukon Arts Centre and the Sncəwips Heritage Museum.

Tisiga revisits his performance photographs of 2009 entitled Tales of an Empty Cabin in reference to a 1936 book by Archie Belaney, who masqueraded as a First Nations person under the pseudonym Grey Owl. Throughout his work, Tisiga explores themes of identity, self and cultural appropriation through constructions of ‘Indianness’ for Euro-Canadian consumption.

Highlights in the show include a wall tent filled with faux First Nations artifacts created during the late 1950s by English-born Oliver Jackson for a roadside museum in Kelowna, B.C. and a new artificial turf assemblage series, offering simulated materializations of ‘the land’ as a central First Nations’ identity politics tenant, while plaster-cast cigarette butts, lighters and debris are affixed to their respective surfaces as cultural dialogue remnants.

Tisiga also presents a reinterpretation of his 2014 performance photographs titled No Home in Scorched Earth as large panels that underline a colonial warfare strategy. Images of the artist traversing a devastated forest, wearing his Indian Brand Corporation outfit, evoke the retaking of a land rendered useless. Similarly, the Red Chief cut-outs, standing in a room carpeted with artificial turf, encourage museum visitors to occupy a false territory and peer through a hole in the midriff of a First Nations man for a selfie.

“This is an important exhibition from an emerging talent that challenges us to examine themes of identity, self, reconciliation and appropriation in new ways,” said Dr. Curtis Collins, Director & Chief Curator at the Audain Art Museum. “The show underlines the Museum’s intention to connect with new audiences and builds on its mission to challenge and inspire guests.”

“Polygon has a longstanding commitment to supporting a thriving visual arts community,” commented Neil Chrystal, President and Chief Executive Officer of Polygon Homes. “We are proud to encourage the next generation of gifted Canadian artists through our support of this exhibition.”

Joseph Tisiga was born in 1984 in Edmonton, Alberta and is a member of the Kaska Dena Nation that straddles B.C., N.W.T. and the Yukon. He is currently based in Whitehorse, Yukon. Tisiga studied at Nova Scotia College of Arts and Design and has been a finalist in the RBC Painting Competition (2009) and was longlisted for a Sobey Art Award (2011). His work was included in the recent Oh, Canada exhibition at MASS MoCA in North Adams, Massachusetts.

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