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Bill Reid Centre exhibit celebrates namesake in new display space
The Bill Reid Centre for Northwest Coast Studies (BRC) at Simon Fraser University (SFU) has installed a new art exhibit on SFU’s Burnaby campus that observes the extraordinary life and legacy of the Centre’s namesake, Bill Reid (1920-1998).
Tucked into a cozy nook along the bustling main artery of Saywell Hall, the BRC's display space has hosted several exhibits that highlight new media approaches for engaging with and learning about the visual and material heritage of Coastal First Peoples.
Exhibitions held in the display space are snapshots of larger projects that have taken place outside of the Bill Reid Centre in full partnership with Indigenous curators and artists.
BRC associate director Bryan Myles says that new media approaches help to facilitate an embodied experience of Indigenous culture and heritage on campus for SFU students, faculty, and staff.
“The objective is really to Indigenize the space—and Indigenize SFU at large. We want to create a space that focuses on contemporary Indigenous culture and heritage and the current work being done to document, preserve, and educate,” says Myles. “The university is a place for Indigenous people. We want to make that very loud and clear.”
"The objective is really to Indigenize the space—and Indigenize SFU at large. The university is a place for Indigenous people. We want to make that very loud and clear.”
Bryan Myles, BRC Associate Director
To Speak with a Golden Voice
The BRC’s current exhibit, To Speak with a Golden Voice, offers a condensed satellite version of a full exhibition by the same name developed by the Bill Reid Gallery for Northwest Coast Art in downtown Vancouver. The landmark exhibition opened in 2020 to celebrate what would have been Bill Reid’s centennial birthday, and was co-curated by Beth Carter and Bill Reid’s last apprentice, Gwaai Edenshaw.
In keeping with its new media focus, the BRC put a spotlight on the student multimedia contributions and other digital elements. Digital screens and interactive displays occupy the exhibition space alongside more traditional text panels and photographs, including an immersive 3-D curator tour of the Bill Reid Gallery’s original exhibition, created by Reese Muntean, a PhD candidate at the School of Interactive Arts and Technology (SIAT).
The BRC and SFU played a significant role in developing multimedia for the exhibition, primarily through the film work of the SIAT course IAT 344: Moving Images. Students in the class filmed five short interviews with Reid’s former apprentices and collaborators. Their work was overseen by Mitacs post-doctoral fellow Aynur Kadir, an interdisciplinary academic and media maker who was jointly hosted by the Bill Reid Centre and Bill Reid Gallery.
“It was a great learning experience,” says Kadir. “We learned so much about the legacy of Bill Reid as a teacher and leader and visually recorded his contributions to West Coast Indigenous art from the people who worked with him when he was alive.”
“We learned so much about the legacy of Bill Reid and visually recorded his contributions to West Coast Indigenous art from the people who worked with him when he was alive.”
Aynur Kadir, Interdisciplinary Academic and Media Maker
The BRC also partnered with the Department of Indigenous Studies to offer a credited special topics course by the same title, INDG 222: To Speak with a Golden Voice. The course draws on the Golden Voice exhibition and uses Bill Reid as a lens through which to explore broader social and cultural issues regarding Indigenous art, representation, ownership, and intellectual property.
“A real kind of reckoning is beginning to take place where Indigenous people, through their own activism and pursuits, enter the museum world as critics, as professionals, as artists, as commentators,” says Myles, who authored and taught the course. “Bill Reid is an entry point into wider discussions about the complex and changing relationship between Indigenous communities and the institutions that hold and display their cultural belongings.”
Collaborative New Media
The Bill Reid Centre applies immersive technologies to make Indigenous material and visual heritage digitally accessible to their communities of origin and the broader public.
Displays of Indigenous cultural heritage at museums and galleries have long been criticized for presenting a visual narrative of cultural loss and disassociating contemporary Indigenous communities from their past. The exhibits hosted by the BRC provide a counter-narrative to these criticisms by creating a space to highlight the resilience, creativity, vibrancy, and vitality of Northwest Coast cultures.
The four exhibitions that have graced the BRC display space so far—built around Intangible, Húyat, Digital SQ’éwlets, and now Golden Voice—have all been Indigenous-led or curated in collaboration with Indigenous communities, and prominently featured a new media component.
The Centre’s focus on digital technologies extends from a long legacy of commitment to accessibility. Myles says that BRC founding director George F. MacDonald’s early embrace of multimedia technologies gave shape to the Centre’s dynamic new media approach to cultural stewardship. A visionary in the Canadian museum sphere, MacDonald spearheaded interactive displays and IMAX Theatres in museums, and was an early adopter of digital collections as Director of the Canadian Museum of History.
A friend and colleague of Bill Reid, MacDonald also understood how access to one’s heritage could be used to restore art and culture that was once banned under colonial policy and missionary influence.
“[MacDonald] always saw the need for Indigenous people to be able to access their visual heritage online in a way that was easier than going into a museum and requesting permission to access an archive,” says Myles.
Indigenizing the university
Once home to a row of vending machines, the space outside the Centre has transformed into an educational display, drawing in a vibrant range of visitors from young to old.
Myles has seen SFU Childcare groups play with the touchscreen display and older adult learners in the Liberal Arts 55+ program use the exhibitions for class assignments. Plans are being made to design a K-12 educational resource based on projects that have been featured in the display space.
The display space only offers a glimpse of the full scope of multimedia projects that are part of the BRC’s commitment to supporting learning directed by First Peoples. Myles says that the exhibition space presents a powerful way to activate the Centre’s work within the broader SFU community.
“Bill Reid is an entry point into wider discussions about the complex and changing relationship between Indigenous communities and the institutions that hold and display their cultural belongings.”