Damian John, a B.C.-based Tl’azt’en artist, will be displaying his show “Cover-Up” this fall from Oct. 6-Dec. 24 at Artful : The Gallery in Courtenay. The gallery, located at 526C Cumberland Road is open to the public Wednesdays to Saturdays from noon-5 p.m.
“Cover-Up” comprises a series of comic book covers relating to The Indian Act and eight acrylic mixed media pieces. John’s comic book covers deal directly with major themes relating to intergenerational trauma among Indigenous peoples in Canada and are part of his efforts to explore and represent, through a variety of media, the legacy of trauma that continues to affect Indigenous communities and individuals in Canada today.
Some of John’s comic book covers are created as a response to what he terms The Big Trauma of Canadian History and others imagine a world in which The Indian Act and residential schools did not exist.
“The question for me is always, how can I synthesize my feelings of anger and sadness about the past with the positivity I feel about myself and my community,” said John. “The mindset that you have to be in to create certain kinds of pieces… I don’t want to stay there. So, I also created some pieces that reflect Indigenous people in a positive and empowered light. I also have experimented in this show with reclaiming the caricaturing imagery of Indigenous peoples that has often been used in professional sports team logos to demonstrate that you can transform something sad into something that doesn’t weigh you down.”
Damian John has worked full-time as a professional artist since 2014. As a self-taught digital and acrylic painter, he has studied in universities and forests, on deserts and lakeshores. And as an active member of his communities, he seeks to inspire others to be creative and to story tell not just with words but with images too.
“In some ways, I don’t see myself as an Indigenous artist,” he said. “I do value all of the Indigenous influences on my work, and I want to use those voices to explore the diversity of my experience. But there is a quality of being Indigenous and an artist and then there is also just me as a human.”
John wants his audience to have their own conversations about the themes he explores in his work and to think about whether the images he has created help them to see things differently. He also recommends two of his favourite books to anyone interested in learning more; Thomas King’s An Inconvenient Indian and Bob Joseph’s 21 Things You Didn’t Know About The Indian Act.
“The more we know and work to empathize with one another, the greater number of thoughtful interchanges we have – only then can we start to change the status quo.”
John emphasizes that his work must embrace balance.
“Doing heavy political and cultural works can be really diminishing, energy-wise. It’s not really sustainable over a longer period of time. So, in this show and in future series I have made a concerted effort to dwell on some positive imagery and narratives too; ones that honour the tenacity of the human spirit and of Indigenous communities.”
Damian John is based out of the traditional territories of the Sinixt and the Ktunaxa peoples in the Kootenays in a town called Ymir. His website is www.caribouwoman.com.