Duane Linklater: the voice of contemporary Indigenous art – curious arts

Duane Linklater is committed to broadening the conversation around Indigenous art and art-making in Canada. Degrees in Native Studies (’03 BA), a BFA (’05) and a MFA from Bard College in New York in 2012 speak to his commitment, but they are only part of the story. Through numerous (and acclaimed) gallery exhibits, video and film screenings, magazine profiles, artist residencies and engagements with the community, Linklater has become a leading voice in the arts.

“[Duane Linklater] inspires a questioning of what it means to be a First Nations person in this contemporary critical moment in Canada and internationally,” said Catriona Jeffries, owner, Catriona Davies Gallery, Vancouver.    

Currently based in North Bay, Ontario, Linklater was born Omaskêko Cree in Moose Cree First Nation, Northern Ontario. Thematically, his multidisciplinary artistic practices play with, and articulate ideas around, First Nations histories, authorship, politics and collaborative engagement in relation to contemporary Canadian and international art. Citing early influences such as iconic First Nations artists Norval Morrisseau and Benjamin Chee Chee, Linklater’s projects are as diverse as they are provocative.

linklater-duane-small_2016-alumni-horizon-award_faculty-photo_picmonkeyed At one point during his master’s program, he planted a blueberry garden outside the Hassel Museum in New York, inviting the curators and the public to engage with the fruit. According to his website, the project was initiated by his analysis of the Cree language and its gendering of objects, people, places and things.

“I wanted to talk about blueberries as him or her,” he said in an interview. “In the Cree language you would say I eat him or her because blueberries are animate.”

Linklater’s 2012 silent film, Modest Livelihood a 50-minute mix of documentary and narrative storytelling about a moose-hunting trip, was made in collaboration with fellow First Nations artist Brian Jungen. Premièring at the Banff Centre’s Walter Phillips Gallery as part of an international once-every-five-years art event known as dOCUMENTA (13), the film’s ironic title alludes to a 1999 Canadian Supreme Court ruling that affirmed First Nations hunting and fishing rights, so long as it did not exceed a “moderate livelihood.”

Earlier this year, the Art Gallery of Alberta and the Ociciwan Contemporary Art Collective presented A Parallel Excavation: Duane Linklater & Tanya Lukin Linklater, featuring installation work by both artists. The exhibition explored “notions of excavation,” including an examination of the gallery wall itself — the gypsum, wood and steel and its political implications as resources extracted in Canada.

Linklater returns to Alberta regularly to visit family and engage with the community. One of his most recent projects, Mikikwan – a concrete reproduction of a 9,000-year old hide scraper made from buffalo bone, has been chosen as one of  six public artworks to be displayed in Edmonton’s new Indigenous Art Park, set to open in 2018. The park envisions Edmonton’s past as a “gathering place for Indigenous people, Métis, traders and settlers” and is the result of a collaboration between the Confederacy of Treaty Six First Nations, the Métis Nation of Alberta, Indigenous community members, the Edmonton Arts Council and the City of Edmonton.

In 2013, Linklater received the Sobey Art Award, Canada’s preeminent award for contemporary Canadian art. The juried prize is given annually to a Canadian artist 40 or under whose work has been exhibited in a public or commercial gallery. Linklater’s Sobey Art Award exhibition piece, Tautology, a series of neon thunderbirds influenced by Norval Morriseau’s painting Androgyny, affirms his place as a rising star in contemporary art. An in-demand guest speaker at university, cultural and community conferences across North America, Linklater has also served as Artist-in-Residence at the Banff Centre, Simon Fraser University, guest faculty for the Wood Land School (“a conceptual and physical space for Indigenous people, with Indigenous people deciding its directions, structures and functions”) and Visiting Artist and Lecturer at CalArts in California.    

As part of Alumni Weekend, Duane Linklater will be speaking to Aboriginal high school students gathered at the University of Alberta. As a former UAlberta Aboriginal Student Advisor and frequent Indigenous youth guest speaker, Linklater is never far from the classroom.

“Students look to Duane as a role model,” says Judy Radul, professor, Simon Fraser University. “He articulates issues of First Nations culture, history and politics in Canada, as well as — and in relation to — contemporary Canadian and International art”.

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