White Columns

Beau Dick 'Devoured by Consumerism'

“We talk about the ‘the system’. It has no face; it has no conscience either. So these forces we are up against are almost on the supernatural level. My conscience tells me we have to fight back. And in some ways it is war on another level; nonviolent, but spiritual warfare. It has come to that.” – Beau Dick, 2017.

“Everything gets devoured, devoured, devoured.” –    Wayne Alfred, Kwakwaka’wakw carver and friend of Beau Dick.

White Columns is proud to present ‘Devoured by Consumerism’, the first New York solo exhibition by the Kwakwaka’wakw artist, activist and chief Beau Dick (1955-2017.) The exhibition was conceived by Dick shortly before his death in 2017, and has been organized in close collaboration with the artist’s estate and Fazakas Gallery, Vancouver.  

‘Devoured by Consumerism’ includes a group of some fifteen carved and painted masks and sculptural works made by Dick between 1980 and 2016. The exhibition explores and amplifies the inherent tensions and contradictions between the Kwakwaka’wakw Winter Ceremonies and contemporary consumer culture. Writing about Dick’s intentions for ‘Devoured by Consumerism’ LaTiesha Fazakas suggests: “Through the sharing of works inspired by the Kwakwaka’wakw Winter Ceremonies, Beau Dick hoped to spark change in a world that he saw as devouring itself under the ravenous pressures of capitalism.”

In a text published in 2017 on the occasion of Dick’s widely celebrated participation in Documenta 14 Candice Hopkins wrote: “In Dick’s hands, masks are not simply masks, they are animate beings that have important roles outside the confines of contemporary art. He is continually short-circuiting their status as a commodity. In 2012, he removed the forty Atlakim (Forest) masks from the walls of his gallery and brought them back to his community in Alert Bay, BC, where they were danced for a final time and then ceremonially burned. There is rebirth within destruction, as now there is a responsibility to carve a new set of masks, which in turn keeps them alive.”

A host of compelling characters and figures inhabit ‘Devoured by Consumerism,’ including supernatural cannibal birds; the shape-shifter ‘Otter Woman’; ‘Qominaga’ (the ‘Rich Woman’); ‘Bookwus’ and ‘Tsonoqua’, the wild man and woman of the woods, and the ‘Ghost of Christmas Presents’, among others. Through these works, inspired and informed by his culture’s potlach traditions, and the narratives and traditions they represent, Beau Dick’s art offers us a profound understanding of balance, of community responsibility and personal transformation.

“When we talk about restoration and preservation of our culture, we look at art first and we wonder, What does it mean? We talk about identity and we look at the carvings and we wonder, What does it mean? We talk about territorial claims, and how is that pertinent to what these totems stand for. What does it all mean? This art form is ceremonial art. It comes from ancient times and ancient experiences of our ancestors. It’s given to us as a gift from the creator. It’s like a broken down vehicle that hasn’t been running very well lately because it hasn’t been taken care of. Our whole culture has been shattered. It’s up to the artists now to pick up the pieces and try and put them together, back where they belong. Yeah, it does become political. It becomes beyond political; it becomes very deep and emotional.” – Beau Dick speaking in the 2017 film ‘Maker of Monsters: The Extraordinary Life of Beau Dick.’

The exhibition is accompanied by a new, fully illustrated publication ‘Beau Dick: Devoured By Consumerism’ (Fazakas Gallery / Figure 1. Publishing, Vancouver.) Featuring texts by LaTiesha Fazakas and Laurie White, John Cussans, and Candice Hopkins, and contributions from Wayne Alfred and Cole Speck. Available from the gallery: $25.00 plus shipping.

Chief Beau Dick, aka Walas Gwa’yam (1955-2017), was a Kwakwaka’wakw (Musgamakw Dzawada’enuxw First Nation) artist and activist. (Dick’s name in the Kwak’wala language means: “Big whale”.) Dick was born in the community of Alert Bay, B.C., and lived in Kingcome Inlet, Vancouver. He began carving at an early age studying under his father Benjamin Dick, his grandfather James Dick, and with renowned artists Henry Hunt and Doug Cranmer. Beau Dick also worked alongside master carvers Robert Davidson, Tony Hunt and Bill Reid.

A hereditary chief Dick was highly active in his community. “In February 2013, inspired by the activist movement Idle No More and spurred on by his daughters Linnea and Geraldine, they walked south from Quatsino to Victoria, British Columbia, where in the presence of some three thousand people they broke a copper named Nunmgala on the steps of the BC Legislative Assembly. In 2014, he gathered even more supporters and broke copper on the steps of Parliament Hill in Ottawa. Dick, the maker of monsters, is exposing some too. The coppers broken on the steps of two houses of power are a call against colonialism and capitalism: “In breaking this copper we confront the tyranny and oppression of a government who has forsaken human rights and turned its back on nature in the interests of the almighty dollar, and we act in accordance with our laws.”” (Candice Hopkins)

Beau Dick created many important public works including a Transformation Mask for Expo 86, Vancouver; and the Ga’akstalas Totem Pole for Stanley Park, Vancouver (carved with Wayne Alfred and raised in 1991.) Beau Dick’s work has been shown extensively including exhibitions at the Royal British Columbia Museum, Vancouver (1976); Canada House, London, UK (1986); the 17th Sydney Biennale, Sydney, Australia (2010); and Documenta 14 Athens/Kassel, Greece/Germany (2017.) A retrospective of his work was held at the Audain Museum, Whistler, Canada in 2017. He was the recipient of the 2012 VIVA Award, and was the Artist-in-Residence at the University of Columbia’s Department of Art History, Visual Art and Theory from 2013-2017.

White Columns would like to express our sincere gratitude to Beau Dick’s family, LaTiesha Fazakas and everyone at the Fazakas Gallery, Vancouver for their enthusiasm and support in bringing Beau Dick’s work to New York.

White Columns’ Director Matthew Higgs would like to personally thank and acknowledge the Vancouver-based artist Roy Arden for introducing him to Beau Dick’s work in 2004: on the occasion of the exhibition ‘Supernatural - Neil Campbell and Beau Dick’, curated by Arden for the Contemporary Art Gallery (CAG), Vancouver in 2004.

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