Joseph Tisiga’s Tales of an Empty Cabin comes to Audain Museum

Whistler’s Audain Art Museum today announced a new major exhibition featuring the contemporary work of Whitehorse-based Kaska Dena artist, Joseph Tisiga. Tales of an Empty Cabin: Somebody Nobody Was…, which runs from February 16 – May 6, 2019, is the artist’s first major museum show and presents a cutting-edge navigation of identity and self. It is also the first curatorial effort by the museum’s new Director & Chief Curator, Dr. Curtis Collins. Media are invited to preview the show on February 15, 2019, in advance of the public opening. The exhibition is presented by Polygon Homes and generously supported by Canada Council for the Arts (le Conseil des arts du Canada) and the Peter & Joanne Brown Family Foundation.

Joseph Tisiga, Audain Art Museum
A Prop for Reconciliation (Dilton), is among the contemporary works from Kaska Dena artist, Joseph Tisiga featured in a new exhibition at Whistler’s Audain Art Museum. (CNW Group/Audain Art Museum)

Since his national debut in Toronto in 2014, Tisiga’s work has been garnering steady acclaim. The exhibition at the Audain Art Museum will set the stage for his participation in the widely anticipated Armory Show in New York this spring.

Tales from an Empty Cabin: Somebody Nobody Was… includes new and remixed productions of Tisiga’s art, adding depth to his practice. Three new bodies of work are complemented by collages, oil paintings and watercolours borrowed from private and public collections across Canada including the National Gallery of Canada, RBC, Yukon Arts Centre and the Sncəwips Heritage Museum.

Tisiga revisits his performance photographs of 2009 entitled Tales of an Empty Cabin in reference to a 1936 book by Archie Belaney, who masqueraded as a First Nations person under the pseudonym Grey Owl. Throughout his work, Tisiga explores themes of identity, self and cultural appropriation through constructions of ‘Indianness’ for Euro-Canadian consumption.

Highlights in the show include a wall tent filled with faux First Nations artifacts created during the late 1950s by English-born Oliver Jackson for a roadside museum in Kelowna, B.C. and a new artificial turf assemblage series, offering simulated materializations of ‘the land’ as a central First Nations’ identity politics tenant, while plaster-cast cigarette butts, lighters and debris are affixed to their respective surfaces as cultural dialogue remnants.

Tisiga also presents a reinterpretation of his 2014 performance photographs titled No Home in Scorched Earth as large panels that underline a colonial warfare strategy. Images of the artist traversing a devastated forest, wearing his Indian Brand Corporation outfit, evoke the retaking of a land rendered useless. Similarly, the Red Chief cut-outs, standing in a room carpeted with artificial turf, encourage museum visitors to occupy a false territory and peer through a hole in the midriff of a First Nations man for a selfie.

“This is an important exhibition from an emerging talent that challenges us to examine themes of identity, self, reconciliation and appropriation in new ways,” said Dr. Curtis Collins, Director & Chief Curator at the Audain Art Museum. “The show underlines the Museum’s intention to connect with new audiences and builds on its mission to challenge and inspire guests.”

“Polygon has a longstanding commitment to supporting a thriving visual arts community,” commented Neil Chrystal, President and Chief Executive Officer of Polygon Homes. “We are proud to encourage the next generation of gifted Canadian artists through our support of this exhibition.”