Duane Linklater confronts the contradictions of colonialism
Can a North American museum, inherently indebted to white European models of what a museum is, ever present work created by North American Indigenous artists in ways that challenge those models?
The Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive asks that question as it presents a major retrospective of Omaskêko Ininiwak artist Duane Linklater, opening Oct. 7. Duane Linklater: mymothersside will include more than 30 works by the Ontario-based artist.
The artist himself helps explode classic presentation tropes, as Victoria Sung, BAMPFA’s Phyllis C. Wattis senior curator, explained. Sung, along with Curatorial Associate Claire Frost, organized the BAMPFA show.
“He’s one of the most exciting artists in contemporary art in the past decade,” Sung said. Before curating the BAMPFA exhibition, she had seen his work on view in New York, Toronto and at SFMOMA. “He has been constantly on my radar,” she said.
Although mymothersside was originally presented by Seattle’s The Frye Museum, “[Linklater’s work] is never shown in the same way twice,” Sung said. “It’s constantly evolving.” She described a piece that debuted in 2022, wintercount_215_kisepîsim, mistranslate_wolftreeriver_ ininîmowinîhk, which will be a centerpiece of the BAMPFA exhibition.
Consisting of a large teepee, the multi-part installation features abstract canvases, each measuring more than 18 feet long, hung or on the ground and made using natural dyes including cochineal, orange pekoe tea, charcoal, sumac and blueberry pigment. “We will show it in a different way,” Sung said, paying tribute to Linklater’s expressed technique that “interrogates what he calls ‘the physical and theoretical structures of the museum,’” especially in relation to the exclusion of Indigenous cultural production past and present. The work will be on view for the first time since its debut at the 2022 Whitney Biennial.
Atlanta-based magazine Art Papers described the Frye Museum’s exhibition this way: “Linklater’s works open an imaginative space to consider not only the limitations of the museum but the new possibilities that arise when museum walls are deconstructed, figuratively or literally. The exhibition forms a contemporary portrait of Indigenous life through subtle offerings of perseverance, adaptation and growth, despite myths of extinction. This gesture is most evident in his multilayered explorations of materiality, as well as his use of objects and cultural symbols tied to life before first contact—and after it.”
Linklater’s artistic output, which includes painting, sculpture, video and performance, along with what BAMPFA materials describe as “large-scale interventions into the architecture of museum spaces,” continues to investigate the contradictions of contemporary indigenous life, with its dedication to honoring and maintaining the traditions of the past, and its inevitable collisions with dominant “settler” culture.
His white plastic 3-D printed replicas of masks, pots, figurines and other “artifacts” mocks and mourns the original objects’ desecration, as they are displayed in museums and galleries without context—stolen, in fact, from the cultures that created them.
Linklater’s draped and folded teepee-cover paintings are shaped canvases the artist makes using a combination of digital printing and natural dyeing techniques. These half-circles of linen panels are as large as 20 feet in diameter and include stake loops, central smoke flaps, and door cut-outs printed with indigenous patterns and the “settler” floral designs that subsumed them.
The artist is also known for incorporating modern pop-culture references into his work; influences that come from his youth, such as the English band the Cure and blues legend Taj Mahal.
The BAMPFA exhibit will also include examples of Linklater’s film work, such as several digital transfers of 16mm and Super 8 short films. In the silent Modest Livelihood (2012)—named for the 1999 Canadian Supreme Court decision giving First Nations the “right” to hunt and fish on their own territory, not exceeding a “modest livelihood”—Linklater and fellow artist Brian Jungen go on a hunting trip in Dane-zaa Territory in Northern British Columbia.
On Feb. 21, 2024, Linklater and his son Tobias Linklater will score the 50-minute film for the first time in a live performance at BAMPFA, performing as Eagles With Eyes Closed. Sung noted that Linklater said he’s “always wanted to score this film,” and that the performance is once again aligned with the artist’s desire to never show work the same way. “Music has always been a big part of his life and art,” Sung said.
BAMPFA has planned many public events in conjunction with the exhibition. To celebrate its opening and the observance of Indigenous People’s Day, which is the following Monday, the museum will host a Community Day, with free gallery admission from 11am to 7pm. Visitors can experience an impromptu in-gallery “musical” co-created by Linklater and a collaborating cellist. Family-friendly art-making workshops will welcome small visitors, and Sung will lead an exhibition walk-through.
Other programs include a “Roundtable on Native American and Indigenous Knowledge” on Oct. 14 from 1:30-3pm that will focus “on [Linklater’s] engagement with forms of Native American and Indigenous knowledge through an exploration of such topics as food sovereignty, land stewardship and language revitalization.”
These ideas are top of mind for many in the East Bay, as organizations and individuals continue to acknowledge publicly that they occupy lands that originally belonged to the Ohlone or Miwok peoples. One such acknowledgement reads:
“I live on the occupied homelands of the Ohlone Chochenyo people, who looked after this land for centuries and still live here. I advocate and support efforts for Indigenous land to be returned to Indigenous ownership and management.” Sung noted that she expects this connection to be explored in the roundtable.
In November, a series of open rehearsals, titled Ewako ôma askiy (This then is the earth) will feature dance artists Ivanie Aubin-Malo and Ceinwen Gobert, led by artist/choreographer Tanya Lukin Linklater. According to BAMPFA, “these sessions respond to the cyclical, seasonal, affective, and formal qualities of selected works in Duane Linklater: mymothersside. Visitors are invited to view the unfolding processes of embodiment, gesture and sensation within the exhibition galleries.”
Dates for the rehearsals include Nov. 1, 1:30-6pm; Nov. 2, 3-6pm; Nov. 3, 1:30-6pm; and Nov. 4, 1:30-6pm.
BAMPFA’s museum store will feature an illustrated catalog, edited by the curator of the Frye Museum’s exhibition, that includes new scholarship about the artist as well as intergenerational conversations among the artist and his family.
‘Duane Linklater: mymothersside,’ Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive, 2155 Center St., Berkeley. Runs Oct. 7, 2023 – Feb. 25, 2024. 510.642.0808. www.bampfa.org