Marianne Nicolson is a visual artist, scholar, activist, and a member of the Dzawada‘enuxw First Nation of the Kwakwaka‘wakw First Nations in what is currently British Columbia. Her practice is informed by historical research, her background in linguistics and anthropology, and Dzawada’enuxw First Nation ways of being. She has exhibited artwork around the world and published numerous essays and articles on issues of Aboriginal histories and the politics of cultural revitalization and sustainability. She works with many materials, but for the exhibition she used glass and light to create Ḱanḱagawí (The Seam of Heaven), an installation that beckons you into the exhibition.
During the planning stages of Double Exposure, the advisory committee of local Native community members had a chance to meet the Indigenous artists in the exhibition. As we looked through the Edward Curtis photographs being considered, Marianne Nicolson shared a lesser-known history behind the pictures featuring Kwakwaka‘wakw dancers, including members of her own family from a few generations back. The Kwakwaka‘wakw recognized the questionable intentions of Curtis coming to photograph them, but took advantage of the situation to practice religious ceremonies that had been otherwise outlawed by the federal government for generations. The photographs took on a new dimension for me after hearing Nicolson’s story. Despite Edward Curtis’s intentions, his images reveal evidence of historic Indigenous resistance and political will hidden in plain sight.
This overlapping and entangling of multiple perspectives permeates Marianne Nicolson’s artworks. For instance, in Ḱanḱagawí (The Seam of Heaven) Nicolson was inspired by the many histories of the Columbia River from the communities that lay claim to it. The immersive sculptural installation consists of a 14-foot-tall glass archway emitting otherworldly blue light that ebbs and flows up and down the walls of the gallery. In a contemporary form, this artwork presents an age-old message about the life-giving importance of water in Kwakwaka‘wakw culture, the continued need for its protection, as well as ongoing negotiations surrounding rights to the river and land sovereignty. Ḱanḱagawí (The Seam of Heaven) is a special commission for Double Exposure. Pictured above is an example of Nicolson’s work currently on view at the National Museum of the American Indian.