Feb 17 – May 14, 2022
This exhibition is open to view during our regular gallery hours: Tue-Sat, 12 to 6pm
Sovereignty is Mi’gmaq photographer and mask-maker Duane Isaac’s first solo exhibition in Vancouver. The mixed-media photographic installation explores an Indigenous body in nature outfitted with a fantastical mask—one side overgrown with fledgling greenery while the other half conjures a ghost of the human face beneath. The figure is overtaken by flames, mask first. Motivated by the health and survival of Indigenous bodies and Indigenous Lands, Isaac casts his model as a vessel of sovereignty under threat; “Sovereignty explores the questions of autonomy and health of both body and Land. The health of the Land will reflect the health of the body and the health of the body will reflect the health of the Land. One cannot survive without the other.” The figure’s mask embodies this nonduality, representing Indigenous identity as equal to and inseparable from the Land. In this installation, four masks gaze out from the centre of the gallery, standing sentinel to the four directions.
Isaac’s artistic practice traces the ephemeral, hand-crafting surreal and otherworldly masks solely for his portraiture, then heightening their narrative presence through lighting and digital manipulation. Ranging from darkly demure to expressively gaudy, his masks are opulent, clever, twisted, unsettling, sexy, and unquestionably queer. His lens seeks a balanced relationship between body and mind, where masks externalize a rich internal world populated by grotesque and seductive creatures, guided by Indigenous ways of knowing, the queer gaze, environmental angst, and an apocalyptic perspective on the past and future.
Balance is less easily found in Sovereignty—the final tableau, a portrait of absence where the figure’s red garment lies amongst the undergrowth, poses many-layered questions. Has the garment been shed by the Body, or donned by the Land? Where does the one end and the other begin? Sovereignty is so hot! Are we witness to immolation or ignition?
This exhibition is part of the 2022 Capture Photography Festival Selected Exhibition Program.
Duane Isaac is a First Nation Mi’gmaq from Listuguj, QC. He is a contemporary artist who uses the photography medium in combination with his mask making. His work has been featured in multiple online publications, most recently Canadian Art Magazine. He currently resides in Listuguj, QC.