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Works of renowned Indigenous carver Beau Dick to be shown at prestigious New York art fair

The late Kwakwaka’wakw artist, famous for his mask carvings, will feature at Tribeca’s Independent Art Fair
Beau Dick's Dzunukwa, c. 2000-2010, will be among the three artworks to feature at New York's upcoming Independent Art Fair. | Fazakas Gallery

Some moments in history are so pivotal that they deserve to be looked back on and celebrated with the same gusto as when they first happened.

Such a moment in the art world occurred in 2010, when New York’s Independent Art Fair displayed its first ever Indigenous art in the form of a work by Kwakwaka’wakw Northwest Coast artist and Chief Beau Dick.

This year the exclusive, invitation-only event will embark on its 15th edition, and in celebration will host a special initiative spotlighting the works of 15 artists who have significantly impacted the fair. Three masks crafted at the hands of the notable Northwest carver, exhibited by East Vancouver’s Fazakas Gallery, will be among the works.

“This is something that I envisioned when I first started out 20 years ago, that Indigenous work, in particular Northwest Coast and Beau Dick’s work, could sit alongside other contemporary works on an International scale,” said LaTiesha Fazakas, West Vancouver resident and director and curator of Fazakas Gallery.

Fazakas, writer and producer of the 2017 feature-length documentary, Maker of Monsters: The Extraordinary Life of Beau Dick, championed the works of Dick throughout his life and after his passing in 2017.

Coming from a long line of carvers, the B.C. born Dick had his work rooted in traditional Kwakwaka’wakw visuals and practices. His repertoire was heavy with masks, some of which went on to become important public works – including a transformation mask for Expo ‘86 that now sits within the Canadian Museum of History.

The masks due to be spotlighted in New York feature the Wild Woman of the Woods, known as Dzunuḵwa or T ̓ sonoqua, a forest-dwelling, First Nations’ mythical creature. Created over a 20 year period, each mask is unique in its representation of the legend.

“It’s probably one of Bo’s most famous characters, definitely one that a lot of people really relate to and gravitate to,” said Fazakas.

“He always came back to the characters that are from the stories and histories of his people, and the rare and remarkable thing is, every time he revisited those characters, he revisited them in a different way.”

Fazakas said she hopes the exhibit encourages its viewers to open their mind and set aside preconceived notions about the definition of art.

“This exhibition is able to open up the parameters of art history, so that other ways of living and being, and other histories other than Western history, can become part of that dialogue.”

With New York being the world stage, where bigwig international curators visit to learn of skilled yet unknown artists, having Dick’s work highlighted in such a way opens the doors for wider education on Indigenous art and culture, said Fazakas.

“This is really an opportunity to reach those curators and have more chance for a Canadian artist to influence the entire world, and the entire conversation about reinforcing and reiterating the importance of different values,” she added.

“Those values go beyond consumerism and capitalism, and have more concern about each other and the environment and the impact of colonialism. This is about changing our worldview and our approach to the world around us, and the environment that we live in.”

The Independent Art Fair’s special initiative will run alongside the Art Fair’s main event – a sprawling showcase of 130 artists from 80 galleries across four floors. The event will run May 9-12 at Spring Studios creative hub in Tribeca, New York.

Mina Kerr-Lazenby is the North Shore News’ Indigenous and civic affairs reporter. This reporting beat is made possible by the Local Journalism Initiative.

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