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Artist Spotlight

grunt gallery and Michael Yahgulanaas

The grunt gallery is an artist-run centre in Vancouver founded in 1984. The space invites exploration of the diverse mosaic of Canadian culture with artist talks, exhibitions, performances and publications.

Program Director Glenn Alteen is pleased about the recent renovation of GruntKitchen into a Media Lab. “Now we have a great space to develop and present media to the public,” he says. The facility allows live streaming of artist content to increase international connections.

Activating the Archives Part 1, grunt gallery, 2010. Photo used with permission of grunt gallery.

grunt is undertaking a multi-year project called Activating the Archive. The gallery’s 26 years of production will be placed in the digital realm using an interactive, database-driven website. Exploring how artists fit into this new milieu is a natural off-shoot of the project.

First Ladies Crew performing at Vancouver premiere of Beat Nation, 2011. Photo used with permission of grunt gallery.Part of grunt’s collection is already on line in curated sites such as Beat Nation - Hip Hop as Indigenous Culture. These sites ensure accuracy of information and funding for curators. “Beat Nation has received a huge response from all over North America,” says producer Glenn Alteen.

Grunt has a long-standing and special connection with Indigenous Peoples in Vancouver. “It’s a place they feel accepted and comfortable,” says Glenn, “and can connect to the community through art.

Opening reception of Old Growth at the grunt gallery. Photo used with permission of grunt gallery.Old Growth, curated by Liz Park, showed at grunt April 21-May 21, 2011. The exhibition featured published and previously stored drawings by Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas, as well as the artist’s latest book, a retrospective. “I had trunks full of drawings and sketches dating back to the 1970’s,” says Michael. He knew the drawings were valuable because they documented a lively, challenging time in B.C. history.

Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas is a well-respected, mature artist with HaImage from Old Growth by Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas. Photo used with permission of grunt gallery.ida ancestry. His contemporary sculptures are in public and private collections. The artist produces a hybrid artform called Haida Manga. His comic-strip tales combine Haida formline and the manga graphic techniques of Asian novels. Humorous, inventive, irreverent and intriguing, this cross-cultural and subcultural medium pushes both visual and traditional/popular boundaries.

Catching up with the busy artist for a phone interview, he continued to draw while talking. “This is my approach,” he says, “doing art shuts down the mental chatter, empties my brain. I recognize that I can’t manage the world, I’m not a creative god. But I can pick up my tool, a brush, and help people that way.”

Yahgulanaas has been politically active since the 1970’s. “In my community in Haida Gwaii,” he remembers, “we were fighting to protect our home. We forged ahead through negotiations and all parties came to the table. The Queen came as an equal player. We made huge changes to the political and legal landscape in the mid-1980’s.” According to Yahgulanaas, the group management of Gwaii Haansas National Park, signed in 1993, is a success story that all Canadians can be proud of. He believes this unique agreement could be used as an international model for achieving a common goal through consensus building.

The artist thanks grunt gallery and Liz Park for their assistance. Glenn Alteen acknowledges ongoing support from the BC Arts Council. “They take the time to know the communities they fund,” he says, “and do a really good job.”


grunt gallery is funded in part by the BC Arts Council, supporting artists and arts organizations in communities across BC.