The Value of Comic Sans by Sonny Assu (2016), a digital Intervention on a painting by Emily Carr (Memalilaqua, Knights Inlet), is prominently featured at a solo exhibition by Assu at the Canada Gallery in London, England.

‘Indigenizing Canada House feels pretty good!’ Campbell River-based artist’s work featured in London, England

Solo exhibition by Sonny Assu opens on Indigenous Peoples Day

A solo exhibition by Campbell River-based artist Sonny Assu (Ǧʷaʔǧʷadəx̌ə) opens today, Indigenous Peoples Day, at the Canada Gallery in London, England.

Asked about the significance of the date, Assu replied, “Everyday is Indigenous Peoples Day.”

The interdisciplinary Laichwiltach artist from We Wai Kai Nation fielded questions from the Mirror by email as he recovered from jet lag in London.

Assu is well-known for works that challenge colonial ideas of Canadian history. The work most prominently featured at the Canada Gallery is The Value of Comic Sans (2016), one of his digital interventions on an Emily Carr painting.

The original painting is Memalilaqua, Knights Inlet (1912), which depicts a Kwakwaka’wakw community in the remote coastal area north of present-day Campbell River. The scene is disrupted by a comic book speech bubble, a kind of “digital tag.”

The work is part of a larger series meant to challenge Carr’s depictions of Indigenous people as a vanishing race.

“With this piece I wanted to think of the importance and wealth of language, the comic book speech bubble paired with the copper shape,” Assu said. “The title, The Value of Comic Sans, points to an equally hated and loved font within pop culture.”

Copper appears elsewhere in Assu’s art. In works displayed last year at the Campbell River Art Gallery, he referenced copper shields used by chiefs during potlatch ceremonies.

Pop culture imagery is also a central theme for Assu. His love of comics as a child comes through in works like Thunderbird busting out of a Speculator Boom, which highlights the character Thunderbird from X-Men, a comic book depiction of an Indigenous person with superhuman strength.

“I couldn’t relate to him on the level of appearance as a kid, but I related to the fact that he was and is a strong Indigenous character, someone that I could be inspired by,” Assu said.

This radical mixing of Western and pop aesthetics with Kwakwaka’wakw iconography cuts to the core of identity for Assu, who was raised by his grandparents in suburban North Delta and learned about his heritage at the age of eight.

Fourteen pieces by Assu are on display at the London exhibit, representing five distinct series of work from 2012 to 2018. The exhibit, curated by the Baldwin Gallery of London, is also part of the ORIGINS Festival of First Nations art, which is currently underway in the UK capital.

The Canada Gallery itself is attached to the Canadian High Commission to the UK. It’s located inside Canada House, a showcase building on Trafalgar Square that provides consular and passport services for Canadians abroad.

The centre of the historical British Empire and Canadian colonial project is a unique place to situate Assu’s work, which explicitly confronts romanticized depictions of Canada.

“Everyday is Indigenous Peoples Day and I’m burning down the the facade of Canada (the colonial project) from the inside,” he said. “What is interesting about showing my work at Canada House is that it presents the counter-narrative to that colonial project and contextualizes the hidden history that people either don’t know about or don’t want to know about.

“Don’t get me wrong, I’m proud of this moment, this is a massive accomplishment for my work,” he said of the exhibition, which is called A Radical Mixing. “But I’m not here to wave any flags and I’m not going to pull any punches. So Indigenizing Canada House feels pretty good! I’m starting to see A Radical Remixing as an intervening on the colonial narrative.”

READ MORE: New exhibits at Campbell River Art Gallery unsettle Canadian landscapes

While in England, Assu will also be artist-in-residence at the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts at the University of East Anglia in Norwich, where he’ll be staying with his oldest daughter Lily.

At the end of the residency, Assu will give the keynote address at a conference titled “Bringing Light to the Dark: Visual Sovereignties in Contemporary Indigenous Art of the Americas.” Assu will also co-curate an exhibit at the Sainsbury Centre.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Crews work on construction of the new composting facility at the Campbell River landfill. Photo by Marc Kitteringham, Campbell River Mirror
Environment group wishes Comox Strathcona compost site was in a better spot

Province has guidelines on siting, but they are not legal requirements

COVID-19 virus (file photo).
COVID-19 exposures reported for two Campbell River schools

Campbell River Christian School and Ecole des Deux Mondes are the schools involved

The seasonal Search and Rescue program will run between May to September. ( File photo/Canadian Coast Guard)
Coast Guard Inshore Rescue Program starting up next week

Teams have protocols in place to ensure COVID-19 safety

Jacob Koomen takes his bike out for a spin near his home in Campbell River. Photo by Marc Kitteringham, Campbell River Mirror
Campbell Riverite to cycle length of Island to raise funds for cancer research

Long distance rides are no big deal for 73-year-old cyclist

The City of Campbell River will explore whether organic shoreline nutrification can be a part of its flood mitigation and shoreline restoration work after a presentation received at a recent council meeting showing its benefits. Photo by Mike Davies/Campbell River Mirror
City of Campbell River to look at whether forestry waste could be used for shoreline improvements

‘Organic shoreline nutrification’ could see more areas of the beach become more accessible

A bullet hole is seen in the windshield of an RCMP vehicle approximately 4 km from Vancouver International Airport after a one person was killed during a shooting outside the international departures terminal at the airport, in Richmond, B.C., Sunday, May 9, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Homicide team IDs man in fatal YVR shooting as police grapple with spate of gang violence

Man, 20, charged in separate fatal shooting Burnaby over the weekend

Keith MacIntyre - BC Libertarian
Penticton’s Keith MacIntyre new leader of the B.C. Libertarian Party

The Penticton businessman was voted in by members of the party on May 8

RCMP are searching for Philip Toner, who is a 'person of interest' in the investigation of a suspicious death in Kootenay National Park last week. Photo courtesy BC RCMP.
Man sought in suspicious Kootenay death found in Lake Country

Philip Toner is a person of interest in the death of Brenda Ware

Vernon North Okanagan RCMP reported to 287 mental health calls between Jan. 1, 2021, and May 1. (Black Press files)
‘It’s not the police’s responsibility to deal with mental health calls’: Vernon RCMP

RCMP remind public to take care of mental health and well-being, while better solutions are sought

Thompson Rivers University campus is in Kamloops, B.C. (KTW file photo)
Thompson Rivers the 1st B.C. university to supply free menstrual products

The university will offer the products this September

Fraser Health is using ‘targeted’ vaccination clinics in high-risk areas of the Lower Mainland. (Fraser Health photo)
B.C.’s COVID-19 decrease continues, 515 new cases Tuesday

426 seriously ill people in hospital, up from 415 Monday

A scene from the Schoolhouse Squat from October 2018, where Alliance Against Displacement members and supporters occupied the Rutherford Elementary School site, advocating for people experiencing homelessness. (News Bulletin file)
‘Schoolhouse Squat’ activists get conditional discharge in Nanaimo school occupation

Ivan Donald Drury, Tingchun (Listen) Chen sentenced in provincial court in Nanaimo

The site of Sunfest, Laketown Ranch, will be open for camping this summer. (Citizen file)
Sunfest country music bash won’t be shining on B.C. in 2021

Annual Vancouver Island Festival cancelled due to COVID-19, along with Laketown Shakedown

Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation elected chief councillor Moses Martin, who was also Chantel Moore’s grandfather, speaks to media in Port Alberni on Aug. 16, 2020, during a visit from NDP leader Jagmeet Singh following the police shooting of Chantel Moore. (Elena Rardon photo)
Mother of 2 shot by police in critical condition, says B.C. First Nation chief

Community ‘devastated’ by third member of 1,150-person Vancouver Island nation shot in less than a year

Most Read