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Tanya Lukin Linklater Explores Silence in the Art of Indigenous Storytelling

The artist’s first solo exhibition in Toronto transposes the viewer into the oral traditions and everyday domestic rituals of Indigenous female life through documentation of dance and movement.

Tanya Lukin Linklater, “Slay All Day” (still), 2016. HD video for web (silent), 4:16. (Courtesy of the artist)

Toronto, Ontario — The Junction neighborhood of Toronto seems like the place to be these days. Earlier this September, the long-awaited re-opening of the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) (formerly known as the Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art), revamped its image and moved into its new industrial digs near in an industrial part of Toronto. Several galleries have recently popped up in the area, including ma ma, a not-for-profit art space in Toronto organized by Magdalyn Asimakis and Heather Rigg.

The two founded ma ma as a space for critical dialogues through art and gathering. This September, ma ma opened Slay All Day, an exhibition of three works by Tanya Lukin Linklater, an artist originally from southwestern Alaska and now based in northern Ontario. As Linklater’s first solo exhibition in Toronto, the works on view transpose the viewer into the oral traditions and everyday domestic rituals of Indigenous female life. Documenting dance and movement athletics in film, the artist pushes the conceptual edifices of Indigenous experience through her production of text-based practices through the circuitry of the gallery. Her work is mutually informed by relational aesthetics and institutional critique, asking viewers to consider the role of the body in the commodified space of the gallery.

Tanya Lukin Linklater and Liz Lott, “The treaty is in the body” (2017). Digital image. (Courtesy of the artist)

Lukin Linklater originates from the Native Villages of Afognak and Port Lions (Masiqsirraq in Alutiiq), a small inlet community in northern Alaska. Since 2017, she’s been a member of the Wood Land School, with whom she developed a project called Under the Mango Tree – Sites of Learning, a gathering that took place during last year’s Documenta 14, which utilized and critiqued Indigenous representation in film, contemporary art, land, and politics.

Spearheaded by Duane Linklater, the Wood Land School project operates with the goal of providing greater structural inclusion of Indigenous people in institutional spaces. The art project functions as both a conceptual and physical space for Indigenous knowledge and participation, which last year led to a collaborative project in Montréal entitled Kahatènhston tsi na’tetiátere ne Iotohrkó:wa tánon Iotohrha / Drawing a Line from January to December (2017). Over the course of that year, the project unfolded through a series of three gestures and events, which centered upon how Indigeneity manifests in art objects, performances, and discursive events.

Tanya Lukin Linklater and Liz Lott, “The treaty is in the body” (2017). Digital image. (Courtesy of the artist)

The show at ma ma in Toronto presents three works showcasing Linklater’s versatility. In them, she pushes the conceptual dimensions of female Indigeneity. In a video called “Slay All Day”(2016), for example, the artist documents the role of dance and its athletic permutations within Nanook culture. In another work, “The treaty is in the body” (2017), silent video footage of Omaskeko Cree families in North Bay depicts the minutiae of Indigenous knowledge transmission and oral culture. Finally, a wall-text entitled “A Girl” (2012), presents the artist’s response to the attempted assassination of girls’ education activist Malala Yousafzai, in the region of Swat Valley, Pakistan, in 2012.

Lacking the situated presence and performative integrity of the artist’s physical presence, I felt the show could have spoken louder with voice and body, rather than text and video. Translating Indigenous oral history is a difficult task, I reasoned, one not always suited for the white cube. In response, Linklater references David Garneau’s writing about how processes of translation can enable a colonial mindset, which is often then incorporated into the circuits of international contemporary art.

Accordingly, the exhibition made me wonder whether presence can exist in absentia. And whether the invisibility and silence of Indigenous voices were intentional, or whether it was intended as a metaphor for their structural exclusion in so much of Canadian art. A tension, I feel, that remains unresolved in Linklater’s works, but also in so much of Western art and visual culture, which perhaps was the exhibition’s entire point.

Slay All Day: Tanya Lukin Linklater continues at ma ma through to October 15. 101b-300 Campbell Avenue | Toronto, ON | Friday – Monday: 12–5 PM or by appointment

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