YouTube video

Brian Jungen is a Canadian artist who often reframes found objects to provide a new and more complicated context for them. Best known for his sculptures that fashion sneakers, backpacks, and other mass-produced items into traditional artistic or historical forms, he’s now working on a series that looks at how mass media have told the stories of indigenous people in Canada.

“It was always about inequality, but it wasn’t really from the Native person’s perspective,” says Jungen of the newspaper articles he culled from museum research files. “These are the stories I would have read as a kid, and they would have made me feel really bad about being Native.”

The notion of “perspective” has been central to Western art history. Jungen’s focus on this point emphasizes that it’s simply a system imposed on others, often erasing the realities of the people portrayed. Systems of control can feel inevitable, so people come to believe they’re natural, but they’re certainly artificial. In Jungen’s case, he points to Inuit printmaking as another way of portraying objects and forms in two dimensions, namely through symmetry and the splaying of forms. In his new body of work, presented in the Art21 video embedded above, he asks us to clearly see two side of the issue to decide what is being communicated and to who.

Hrag Vartanian is editor-in-chief and co-founder of Hyperallergic.