Art lovers have one chance to see local artist Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas’s latest Haida Manga mural before it leaves the island.
The 12 square metres of intricate graphic narrative took 17 months to create with a 108-page Haida Manga book coming out November 2019.
The water colour and ink mural is on six panels of rare, Japanese, custom-made mulberry paper.
“Everything that’s gone into it has been really thought out,” says Yahgulanaas, who even met with the chemist about the paper’s pigmentation. “I’m quite obsessive about it.”
“It is the latest, most complex and thoughtful piece to date,” he says.
Carpe Finis currently hanging in the Terminal Creek Contemporary exhibition space in Artisan Square. The work can be viewed until Nov. 25, by appointment only, though there will be a reception on Nov. 21 from 2 to 6 p.m.
Yahgulanaas, a prolific Haida artist and author, known for coining the Haida-Asian hybrid art form he calls Haida Manga, has had work in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, British Museum and the Vancouver Art Gallery. His two previous Haida Manga murals include RED and War of the Blink.
“Haida Manga is taking things we believe to be familiar and twisting them around and making them accessible to us, to the people today,” he says.
Carpe Fin’s story is a reflection on Indigenous stories from up the West Coast including Alaska. Yahgulanaas says that his interpretation questions the range of humans’ relationship with the marine environment.
“Are we just highly inefficient predators,” asks Yahgulanaas, “or have we just taken advantage of the amazing generosity of the ocean?”
He used a story, at least 400-500 years old, about the man who invented the toggle harpoon, basically a more efficient killing machine. People were shocked and the inventor was abandoned on a reef.
“Some say he was left there,” says Yahgulanaas, “some say he was accidentally forgotten.”
Yahgulanaas took that idea and shaped it into a new story.
Carpe Fin is set in a coastal fishing village where there’s an oil spill, poisoning the local food supply. The ferry, which happens to be the Queen of Capilano, has mechanical issues and is incapacitated for a long while. There’s not enough fuel in the village for boats to get far offshore for food meaning that the village cannot rely on the outside world. The community must then grapple with how to feed itself.
“Carpe Fin is about resilient relationships,” says Yahgulanaas. “How do we as an individual community, or how does any individual, manage a life so dependent on the ocean?”
Yahgulanaas says that the impetus for starting this work came after his last mural work, RED, A Haida Manga, saw increases in young people crowding to see the graphic hybrid at art museums.
“There’s a new appetite for a new approach to Indigeneity. We can only go so far if we are all looking at one another through a distorted lens," says Yahgulanaas. “Haida Manga is so popular because it’s trying to open a way for people to see one another in a contemporary way.”
“I want to do stories that are accessible to everyone,” he says. He notes that he likes this form because not everyone can read a totem pole, wade through an academic work, or predict what a government policy will mean, but every human is graphically literate.
Yahgulanaas says the work probably won’t travel because the curators are likely to say it’s too delicate (though he adds that he considers it quite resilient.)
Though not sure that he wants to commit another couple of years of his life for another mural anytime soon, Yahgulanaas is keeping busy. As we were talking he was preparing for a trip to Korea to give a keynote speech on the intersection of ecology, art and identity, which is tied to his work protecting Haida Gwaii years ago. He’s contributing to the design of three new towers to go up in Vancouver and his best-selling book Flight of the Hummingbirdis being made into an opera.
To see Carpe Fin, please call Terminal Creek Contemporary at 604-561-9895 or email email@example.com.