Skeena, Beam Me Up!, Sonny Assu, 2015.

Sonny Assu

Interventions On The Imaginary

The title "Interventions On The Imaginary" is a clear reference to Marcia Crosby’s essay, "The Construction of the Imaginary Indian", and situates itself within the realm of remix culture—as digital interventions onto works that contain the colonial gaze.

These interventions participate in the growing discourse of decolonization, acting as “tags” to challenging the colonial fantasy of terra nullius and confronting the dominant colonial culture’s continued portrayal of Indigenous peoples as a vanishing race.

With the insertion of ovoids, s-shapes and u-shapes into the images, both the landscape paintings and the Northwest Coast design elements are changed. The landscapes become marked by the spectre of Native presence and the Northwest Coast design elements, traditionally two-dimensional in appearance, acquire the illusion of depth through association with Western principles of perspective. I see these bold interruptions of the landscapes as acts of resistance towards the colonial subjugation of the First People.

Special Feature © Sonny Assu 2015


Shedding light on the dark, hidden history that Canada continues to harbour towards the Indigenous people is a main driving force behind my work. I often use humour as a way to ease the viewer in or out of the conversations I create, and the use of autobiographical components is my way of placing a human face on the contemporary and historical realities of being an Indigenous person in Canada. Within this, I deal with the loss of language, loss of cultural resources, and the effects of colonization upon the Indigenous people of North America.

I use painting, sculpture, large scale installations, print, and photography as a way to challenge our Western civilization’s consumption culture through introspection of our consumer driven monolithic ways.

By melding Kwakwa̱ka̱’wakwak art, cultural and societal structures with various Western art movements, I am challenging and persisting that consumerism, branding, and technology are new modes of totemic representation.

© Sonny Assu 2015

About the Artist

Through museum interventions, large-scale installations, sculpture, photography, printmaking and paintings, Sonny Assu merges the aesthetics of Northwest Coast Indigenous iconography with a pop art sensibility in an effort to address contemporary, political and ideological issues. His work often focuses on Indigenous issues and rights, consumerism, branding, new technologies, and the ways in which the past has come to inform contemporary ideas and identities. Within this, his work deals with the loss of language, loss of cultural resources and the effects of colonization upon the Indigenous people of North America.

There is a clear interest in materiality in Assu’s work. The materials used for each work is carefully considered, particularly in relation to Indigenous culture: hand-painted deer/elk hide drums for their performance significance; posters for their mass-distribution qualities; and copper for its cultural importance to the Indigenous People of the Northwest Coast. Assu’s projects emphasize the intersections and boundaries of traditional Indigenous art within the larger realm of contemporary art.

His work has been accepted into the National Gallery of Canada, Seattle Art Museum, Vancouver Art Gallery, Museum of Anthropology at UBC, Burke Museum at the University of Washington, Hydro Quebec, Lotto Quebec and in various other public and private collections across Canada and the United States.

He graduated from the Emily Carr University(2002) and received their distinguished alumni award in 2006. He received the BC Creative Achievement Award in First Nations art in 2011 and was long-listed for the Sobey Art Award in 2012, 2013 and 2015. Sonny is Liǥwildaʼx̱w (We Wai Kai) of the Kwakwaka’wakw nations and he currently works and lives outside of Vancouver, BC.

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