Words :: Feet Banks.
“Snowboarding and surfing come with a level of reverence for and connection to the land,” says Jaimie Isaac, curator of the Boarder X art show set to open at the Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre (SLCC) this spring. “To surf, you have to understand the water, the currents, what’s under the wave. Same with snowboarding, it’s about knowing the mountain and snow. And skateboarders have the urban landscape, so many changing environments to negotiate. These sports help you see the world in really creative, physical manner but there has been limited dialogue around Indigenous connection to the land through these lifeways.”
So Isaac started one. Originally opening at the Winnipeg Art Gallery in 2016, Boarder X is a multi-discipline art show bringing together seven contemporary Indigenous artists who skate, surf, and/or snowboard. The works—which include painting, carving, video, weaving, photography and more—explore the intersections between Indigenous culture, board culture, and the landscapes these sports come from.
“The artists relate to the land through these experiences,” Isaac says, “and their art is a vehicle for expression and dialogue that is environmental, political, cultural, artistic and social.”
There’s also a whole lot of fun to be had. As a general rule, museums and art galleries strictly forbid skateboarding of any kind, let alone kickflips or blunt-to-fakies. At Border X, functioning skate ramps and other local community-driven programming have been included to help bring youth into a facility they may never have felt interested in, or welcomed into.
“When I was starting out, skating and snowboarding were subcultures that weren’t really accepted by the mainstream,” says Isaac, a member of the Sagkeeng First Nation who learned to snowboard on a 150-vertical-foot ski hill outside of Winnipeg. “Even in ski resorts, these sports had a negative association and I saw parallels between these alternative ways of life and the struggles Indigenous youth face to defy stereotypes. With the ramp and other programming and community partnerships like the Indigenous Life Sport Academy, the idea is to change these spaces in a decolonial way to make art institutions more inclusive and relevant to groups that can be engaged with contemporary art in a meaningful way.”
Since 2016, the Boarder X show has partnered with Vans Canada and travelled to Regina, Edmonton, St. John’s, and Nanaimo. Aptly situated between Blackcomb Mountain and the Whistler skate park, the Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre is up next.
“I’m excited that Boarder X is coming to my hometown so I can be more involved with the show and the relationships we can build from it,” says Mason Mashon, a local artist/athlete/adventurer who has a number of exhibits in the show, including a pow board carved from a single piece of western red cedar. Mashon split off a log he discovered on the beach while surfing Vancouver Island’s remote west coast. The not-yet-ridden board features a woven cedar bark topsheet created by snowboarder and master weaver Meghann O’Brien (whose Boarder X art piece Sky Blanket was featured in the Fall/Winter 2019 edition of Mountain Life).
“The SLCC is an amazing venue, and I’m grateful to have an avenue to share my connection to the natural world through surfing and snowboarding,” Mashon says. “I hope we can connect people—those already into board sports or those who see something they might want to explore—that connection is important, for everyone.”
Boarder X opens this spring.