Lawrence Paul Yuxweluptun Lets’lo:tseltun: The Visionist

Lawrence Paul Yuxweluptun Lets’lo:tseltun, the man of many masks and colours is a Coast Salish contemporary artist working out of the unceded territory of Vancouver, British Columbia. A survivor of residential school, Yuxweluptun deploys a piercing activism across his culturally encyclopaedic body of work.

The expression of Indigeneity in his work is both distinctive and unique in its representation of Indigenous culture. In combining bright colours, bold composition, and blunt subject matter, Yuxweluptun asserts the story of his people across his canvas. While his work is often categorized as surreal, the artist identifies as a visionist, enlisting socially resonate landscapes and colonial portraits to orate his visual history.

When contemplating the artist’s work, his technique and skill is undeniable, but it is his subject matter that takes centre stage. He is concerned with political corruption, cultural annihilation, and the eradication of environment. His immense artistic style meets his themes with reverence and poise.

Yuxweluptun’s work provides us with critical insight into the atrocities inflicted upon Indigenous people at the hands of Western colonists. The separation and displacement residential schools spawned would come to have permanent repercussions that would bring about enormous loss and incomprehensible trauma. The Indigenous worldview is rooted in understanding one’s environment. The natural surroundings of the land, form the history book. To have your environment stripped from you emanates extreme cultural consequence.

Residential schools were based on a church operated and state financed system. The regulation, control, and governance of Indigenous people prospered through this system.[1] In 1920, an amendment to the Indian Act, a legislation the artist vehemently opposes, made it compulsory for children between the ages of 7-15 to attend residential school. In 1922 a report was published by Dr Peter Bryce which outlined details of the sanitary conditions maintained in these institutions. He wrote in his report, “even war seldom shows as large a percentage of fatalities as does the education system we have imposed on our Indian wards.” [2] Despite the diabolic conditions making headlines, the government was not persuaded to launch an official investigation.

[1] Nicholas Flood Davin, The Davin Report on ‘Industrial Schools for Indians and Half Breeds,’ 1879

[2] Dr Peter H. Bryce, ‘The Story of a National Crime: An Appeal for Justice to the Indians of Canada,’ 1922

In order to communicate his grief, Yuxweluptun turns to his traditional practice of storytelling and channels it through his paint brush. Important cultural and historical knowledge was transmitted by Indigenous people through storytelling. Many Creation stories feature geographical boundaries such as rivers, lakes, and mountains to define regional lines. The Indigenous way of knowing is in essence formed from the land. In keeping with the tradition of his ancestors, Yuxweluptun too uses mountains, rivers, and lakes to tell his story. Unlike western interpretations of the land, Yuxweluptun’s landscapes are interacted with and occupied by people, they do not sit uninhabited. The playful and curt figures that reside within Yuxweluptun’s paintings are a testament to Indigenous resilience.

Yuxweluptun’s artistic voice is a vessel for anti-colonial, anti-capitalist rhetoric. It both mourns and celebrates Indigenous culture in its objection of the injustices repeatedly imposed on Indigenous communities and its championing of the vitality and strength of Indigenous people, their language, their land, and their customs. The work instils integrity, calls for recourse, and assigns accountability. It goes beyond surrealism. Using an abstracted ovoid, it depicts an honest reality and presents what could be a catalyst to the formation of an entirely new genre of art.

Will Yuxweluptun’s visionism become the next movement to take up residence in the surrealist anthology?

© 2021 Laura Noonan

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