Features / Vancouver / Vancouvering

Social Commentary

Metro News globe


Metro explores the latest trends emerging on the West Coast of Canada.


Cree artist makes pointed statement about racism in Vancouver exhibit

Indigenous Stories: Judy Chartrand’s ‘What a Wonderful World’ exhibit extended at Bill Reid Gallery

One of the ceramic bowls that is part of Judy Chartrand's "What a Wonderful World” exhibit.

Contributed/Bill Reid Gallery of Northwest Coast Art

One of the ceramic bowls that is part of Judy Chartrand's "What a Wonderful World” exhibit.

Judy Chartrand and her creations are both controversial — and honest — about the reality of being Indigenous.

That could be a reason why it took a couple decades for the Vancouver-based Cree artist’s work to get mainstream recognition.

Even when the Bill Reid Gallery approached Chartrand to exhibit her sardonic ceramic pieces, there were hesitations.

“We initially weren’t sure how people would respond,” said Beth Carter, the gallery’s curator.

“She doesn’t hold back in speaking about the relationship between white people and Indigenous people.”

Chartrand’s exhibit “What a Wonderful World,” a retrospective of her ceramics that she has been creating since the late 1980s, is now being shown and was recently extended for another month.

While at first glance the pieces look glossy and beautiful, on further inspection they contain cutting messages about racism, poverty and life on the Downtown Eastside.

Styles for the ceramics range from pop art influenced and darkly humourous to traditional.

One piece depicts Native spirituality in a can. Another illustrates the notoriously gritty Dodson Hotel and cockroaches.

The title piece for the exhibit, Chartrand’s favourite, is a plate with a delicate floral design around the edges, but a surprising racist statement in the middle: “GO BACK TO YOUR OWN COUNTRY!”

The piece created several years ago holds particular significance now, with the Syrian refugee crisis, U.S. President Donald Trump’s immigrant ban, and many visible minorities grappling with discrimination and fear.

Chartrand wonders why white people don’t see the hypocrisy in discriminatory statements like telling other people who didn’t originate here to go back to their own country.

“I don’t know why they don’t see the irony in that,” she said.

“First Nations people, you never hear us saying that to people.”

Chartrand is now creating smaller bowls with the same message that are set to be shown in San Francisco. She also recently exhibited at the Outsider Art Fair in NYC.

“I’ve gotten quite a few really good responses. (Strangers) have sent me messages and I’m really happy people are getting what I’m trying to say,” she said.

“I think some people might see my work and might get pissed off, but others, it’s an awareness for them and I’m glad they’re being woken up.”

Chartrand’s exhibit is at the Bill Reid Gallery downtown until March 26.

More on Metronews.ca