Joseph Tisiga Installation view, A Sacred Game: Escape is Perpetual, Diaz Contemporary, Toronto, 2014.
Photo : Toni Hafkenscheid, courtesy of the artist & Diaz Contemporary, Toronto

Despite grabbing more and more headlines, the conversation about cultural appropriation has so far mostly failed to transcend reductive, bad-faith dilemmas concerning inclusion and artistic freedom, at least among settler Canadians. Some Indigenous artists are advancing the discourse into rich and provocative terrain, however, and foremost among them is Kaska Dene artist, Joseph Tisiga. Based in Whitehorse, Yukon, Tisiga uses painting, sculpture, and performance to effectively turn cultural appropriation around and flip it inside out. Rather than formulating cultural appropriation as simply a crime perpetrated against Indigenous People by settlers, Tisiga treats it as a field of action, wherein he can exert genuine power and influence. Tisiga has said that his art is motivated by a desire to exercise agency in the face of what he calls “supernatural banalities,” his term for the mythic/systemic narratives in which we are all subsumed, of which cultural appropriation is an example. In Tisiga’s telling, cultural appropriation is neither one-directional—a version that flatters settler fantasies of the “vanishing Indian”—nor one-dimensional. Rather, it is a contested space, in which settler entitlement can be exposed and undone, and dynamic symbols can speak anew.

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This article also appears in the issue 97 - Appropriation

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