Cultural Hybrids: Art by Sonny Assu

A Haida art intervention digitally inserted into a landscape by Emily CarrMaking a b-line to HaidaBucks, Salmonberry Frap #ftw #starbucksfail #lol, digital intervention on an Emily Carr painting

Sonny Assu’s practice combines traditional Kwakwa̱ka̱’wakw artwork with science fiction and pop-culture, creating cultural hybrids that are both humorous and deeply critical.


A digitally inserted Haida design on a painting by Paul KaneHome Coming, digital intervetion on a Paul Kane painting

I really enjoy Sonny’s recent series Interventions on the Imaginary, wherein the artist “remixes” historical northwest coast landscape paintings - many of which are by Emily Carr – by added digitally rendered ovoid designs specific to classic aboriginal artwork. The resulting mash-ups grant both images additional depth, while challenging the viewer’s notions of the significance of the landscape paintings. According to Sonny, the images form an act of resistance against colonial ideals and the subjugation of aboriginal peoples.


A screen capture of Sonny Assu's art portfolio

Another recent project, titled Indians in Space, sees Sonny combining his Kwakwa̱ka̱’wakw art forms with sci-fi tropes and pieces of pop culture. One work, a painted skin drum, references themes in the science fiction TV show Battlestar Galactica. In other works, Sonny uses titles that reference internet memes and hashtags to challenge preconceived notions about aboriginal artwork.  

A drum painted with a three-dimensional Haida ovoidAll Along the Watchtower, painting on skin drum

Written by: Dallas Jeffs
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