Snuneymuxw artist Eliot White-Hill, Kwulasultun, is among the artists participating in the Nanaimo Art Gallery’s Rain Shadow exhibit. His piece, ‘We Fell from the Sky/Together and Apart,’ depicts a Snuneymuxw creation story. (Josef Jacobson/News Bulletin)

Nanaimo Art Gallery exhibit explores the ways people think about place

'Rain Shadow' features work mostly by Vancouver Island and Gulf Island artists

After hosting a pair of touring exhibitions from Burnaby and Winnipeg, the Nanaimo Art Gallery’s next show will bring the focus back to the Vancouver Island region.

Starting Feb. 26 the NAG presents Rain Shadow, a multidisciplinary group show featuring artists predominantly from Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands. Curator Jesse Birch said the exhibition relates to “this idea of place and how we bring other places with us to this place.”

“In a rain shadow, clouds come from elsewhere, they get stuck against the mountainside and then they dissipate over the other side of that mountainside,” he said. “So that’s part of it, is the idea that a rain shadow is a relationship between the landscape and the atmosphere.”

Birch said a lot of the works in the show ponder relationships with place, and as the term “rain shadow” refers to the dry side of the mountain being “shadowed” from rain falling on the other side, some of the pieces touch on the theme of light as well.

“A lot of the artists in the show are thinking about ideas around atmosphere and light and shift in atmosphere and light,” he said. “So it’s both shifts in your understandings of place from your own movement and shifts in your understanding of the atmosphere from the movements of light and shadow that you experience in a place.”

Rain Shadow features work by Nanaimo artists Eliot White-Hill, Kwulasultun, and Jonathan Forrest, as well as mid-Island artists Todd Gronsdahl and lessLIE. Representing the Gulf Islands are Gabriola’s Anne Ramsden and Jerry Pethick, who spent many years on Hornby before his death in 2003. From Victoria, artists Alexis Hogan and Natassia Davies are presenting work in collaboration with scientist Danielle Stevenson. The lone mainland artist in the show is Vancouver’s Charlene Vickers.

Ramsden’s piece is a two-screen video projection that addresses the vanishing ecosystem of Garry oak trees on Vancouver Island. It’s called ‘We thought we had never seen a more beautiful country. Every slope and undulation was a lawn and natural garden almost as enchantingly beautiful as the most elegantly furnished pleasure grounds of Europe. One could hardly believe that this was not the work of art,’ a collage of quotes about the Island by European explorers and naturalists. She describes the piece, filmed across the Island, as a “visual poem.”

“The Garry oak in particular is interesting because the oak tree in British culture is so very present and so very emblematic of strength and age and wisdom and heritage… The oak on the one hand symbolizes welcoming in the European imagination, but on the other side it’s a sign of dispossession,” Ramsden said. “I didn’t start with that idea. I worked on this piece for quite a long time and I’ve done quite a bit of research which I understand is just the beginning of not just understanding and learning more about Garry oaks but about the history of the colonization of Vancouver Island.”

White-Hill tells a Snuneymuxw creation story with his piece, We Fell from the Sky/Together and Apart, an eight-by-four-foot abstract painting that draws inspiration from Coast Salish petroglyphs, stone carving forms and weaving patterns.

“One of the main origin stories for us is that some of the first Snuneymuxw fell from the sky onto Mount Benson and then they made their way down to Departure Bay from there,” he said. “And the Rain Shadow exhibit is really about connection to place and so addressing and acknowledging and honouring our connection to our territory is a major part of this art work.”

The painting has been done on eight two-by-two-foot birch panels, White-Hill said, as his apartment isn’t big enough for him to work on the full painting at once. He said he’s always wanted to do a large-scale painting.

“I’ve always just had such an appreciation for paintings and abstract paintings,” he said. “I’d go to art galleries and look and just think about how powerful it would be to see our stories depicted using these techniques or media. This kind of storytelling, it’s just so powerful and evocative and visually stunning.”

WHAT’S ON … Rain Shadow comes to the Nanaimo Art Gallery, 150 Commercial St., from Feb. 26 to April 25.

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