Bracken is an interdisciplinary artist based on the Sunshine Coast. He began working in theatre and performance in 2001, before transitioning towards a practice that fuses painting and drawing with digital-media, audio-visual performance, animation, and narrative. His work combines traditional Indigenous Northwest Coast iconography and history with new media and concepts. He is a graduate of the En’owkin Centre of Indigenous Art and received a BFA in Visual Arts from Emily Carr University of Art and Design. He has also studied under acclaimed Heiltsuk artists Bradley Hunt and his sons, Shawn Hunt and Dean Hunt. Bracken was a recipient of the 2014 BC Creative Achievement Award for Aboriginal Art and was also awarded a YVR Art Foundation Masterpiece Study Program Grant this same year.
Where did the YVR Art Foundation Masterpiece Study Travel Program Grant allow you to visit, and what did you research?
I visited Vancouver’s Museum of Anthropology with my grant money. On day one, I visited the library and studied and documented photographs from Wuikinuxv, Waglisla, and various Kwakwaka’wakw communities. On my second visit, I spent the day in the research room looking at ceremonial pieces from Wuikinuxv (where my grandfather Johnny Hanuse comes from). On day three, I visited the c̓əsnaʔəm exhibition and took photos in the great hall. On day four, I took some more photos and researched in the main hall and spent the afternoon looking at pieces from Gwa’sala, Waglisla (Heiltsuk), and some Coast Salish pieces, one specifically from Klahoose where my grandmother Agnes Hanuse (Pielle) came from.
What did you learn as a result of receiving a Masterpiece Study Program Grant?
I always viewed museums as colonial institutions, and it is common knowledge that many of our sacred objects weren’t acquired in an honest way. Although I retain this view that these spaces are conflicted, I greatly appreciate the time I was able to spend in the research room. I was able to hold the pieces and take detailed photographs of them, and I developed an understanding of how they were made, their weight, balance, the symbols used etc. I really gained a sense of the spirit of each piece and recognized them as physical representations of our ceremonial history, governance, and lineage. I improved my research skills and my object-handling skills due to the grant received from the YVR Art Foundation.
To what extent did receiving a YVR Art Foundation Masterpiece Study Program Travel Grant have an impact on your career?
I have since developed an interest in visiting other museums that hold the work of my people. I have been spending more time exploring online catalogues and have been able to find more pieces out there that belong to my Nations. I will be making plans in the future to visit some of these spaces to research and visit with the ancestors. Since my visit to the MOA I think the research aspect of my process has strengthened. Connecting to iconography and gaining a better understanding of how things are made has been beneficial for me.
Were you able to share any of what you learned from your study project and museum visit with your community?
I have shared the images I captured during the museum visit. In doing this I see there is a lot of pride taken in viewing our historical works and seeing how well they are made and the spirit within them. I have encouraged other artists working within traditional and contemporary forms to visit MOA and other museums to gain this access and to visit with our ancestors. I feel like this is an important step we can take as artists to gain an understanding of how our people worked.