Halifax is a traditional meeting place." Alan Syliboy says as we sit in a white-walled Khyber surrounded by sculptures, paintings and instruments yet to be displayed. "It was and always has been and always be."
This Friday the Khyber will be fulfilling the role of a meeting place as it launches the first major exhibition of east coast Aboriginal art in over a decade. Syliboy will be curating Snapshot: East Coast Contemporary Aboriginal Art running from July 6 to August 17. He will be unpacking and displaying over 40 works by Frannie Fancis, Ursula Johnson, Dozay Christmas, Charles Doucette, Gerald Gloade and Jerry Evansm as well as performing with his band Lone Cloud.
"Putting a variety of these artists on at the same time, we wanted to show the scope of what's going on in the Aboriginal arts in this area right now," says Syliboy. "I just think it's due. We haven't seen these artists for a long time and this is a way to sort of take the temperature of it and see where we're at right now."
Artists from across the region will gather at the Khyber on opening night to take it all in. And Syliboy says that the exhibition is as much about sharing this work with the public as it is about creating an opportunity for artists to connect. "I think we're all busy in our studio and time goes by, you're just working away. Sometimes you're working away and you don't really notice time going by like it has. So we haven't had a show mounted like this for a long, long time, bringing it here is a new relationship and hopefully it's just the beginning."
The Khyber shares this hope. The programming committee wanted a show like this for years after noticing the lack of new east coast Aboriginal art being shown in galleries. Member Alan Collins approached Syliboy about mounting an exhibition of this kind and since then Dan Joyce—artistic director of the Khyber—is now hoping that Snapshot will develop into an annual program.
"None of us could recall anything focused on new art being made by Aboriginal artists on the east coast." Joyce says. "We thought it would be a great opportunity to open that door and create those relationships. Every year we go through our submissions and we get 90 plus submissions and maybe one of them is an Aboriginal artist. I don't even know if the community knows that the Khyber exists so it's a great way to introduce ourselves and get that relationship going."
Frannie Francis will have ten pieces up during Snapshot. Francis is a Mi'kmaq artist living in New Brunswick and this will be her first time showing work in Halifax.
"I'm looking for the general public to create an awareness and an appreciation for our culture, our language and to ask questions," Francis says. "That's a big thing---to break down any barriers. We're very approachable and easy to talk to so if you have any questions about any of our work we're happy to talk to anybody."
Francis' work is directly influenced by her Mi'kmaq heritage. The new paintings she will be showing at Snapshot are created to look like traditional quill baskets.
Syliboy explains that many of the artists showing at Snapshot are inspired by ancient techniques and legends but are taking the work in new directions.
"We're taking advantage of some of the new technology now and telling some old traditional stories, but in a new way, with a fresh approach. When you come here you're going to see things you probably don't expect to see, so this can't be missed."