A public art initiative in Surrey aims to increase the presence of Indigenous works in city-owned buildings and public spaces.
The city’s Public Art Program has revealed the commission of eight original designs by artists from Kwantlen, Katzie and Semiahmoo First Nations. Examples were showcased at a launch event at Surrey Art Gallery on June 29, during National Indigenous History Month.
Three of the eight commissioned artworks are installed at Surrey Arts Centre, where the gallery is located. The others are featured, or will be, at Surrey Nature Centre, Guildford Library, new arenas in North Surrey and Cloverdale, on street poles and on concrete barrier walls of a bridge near Bear Creek.
With the collection, the city aims to “create opportunities for visual representations of reconciliation, and to celebrate and support the creative and cultural practices of artists on whose nations Surrey is sited.”
The cost for each art project, for digitization, fabrication and installation, ranges from $8,000 to $10,000, according to Liane Davison, city’s manager of visual and community art.
On Thursday (July 5), the City of Surrey announced the completion of a public artwork by Leslie Wells called “Eight Salmon Heads” at Surrey Arts Centre.
His design, installed on program room windows, “honours the salmon valued by the coast-dwelling Semiahmoo First Nation,” according to a city release. “‘Eight Salmon Heads’ also honours the salmon that continue to spawn in Bear Creek, which runs behind the Surrey Arts Centre.”
Wells has depicted the salmon in a repeating, rotating pattern, “creating a dynamic effect as if they are swimming through a strong current. The circular movement suggests the mysterious and wondrous life cycle of these fish that migrate to sea and return to their natal streams to spawn, bringing with them vital nutrients to sustain wildlife and healthy river ecosystems.”
The other Indigenous artworks recently installed at Surrey Arts Centre are Drew Atkins’ “Retro-Perspective” (described as “colourful artwork on the courtyard windows (that) combines Coast Salish design elements with a retro look reminiscent of 1950s wallpaper and modernist sculptures”) and “The Fisherman’s Charm,” by Anthony Gabriel (a street banner highlighting “the graceful curves and long neck of the great blue heron, considered a good omen for people venturing out to harvest salmon and other fish”).
Elsewhere in Surrey, Wes Antone’s “snəw̓eyəɬ: Nature’s Gods (Nature’s Teachers)” was unveiled in June at Surrey Nature Centre. “Comprised of 10 striking Coast Salish designs of animals on the walls and doors of (the facility), the artwork is accompanied by the lessons the animals teach us according to the Kwantlen First Nation, as well as the hən̓q̓əmin̓əm̓ translations of the animal names,” according to a city release.
Phyllis Atkins’ “We Are All Connected to this Land,” cut from powder-coated red aluminum and attached to the concrete barrier walls of the bridge near Bear Creek, “honours the land’s natural and cultural heritage.”
“Guardian Spirits” by Trenton Pierre is described as “fabricated in white frit dots on clear glass, these mirrored designs for the windows of the North Surrey Sport & Ice Complex symbolize reconciliation in the form of a contemporary Salish dance mask and drum.”
In Cloverdale, the new arena on 64th Avenue will feature commissioned work by Roxanne Charles of Semiahmoo First Nation. The design will be revealed this fall.
On windows at Guildford Library, “Raven and the First Sunrise,” by Brandon Gabriel, “tells the First Nations story in which the raven brings sunlight to the earth.”
Other work by Gabriel was part of a recent pipeline protest. The Langley artist designed some of the anti-pipeline banners that were hung from the Ironworkers Memorial Bridge Tuesday (July 3), as protesters rappelled from the crossing, forming an “aerial blockade” to impede an oil tanker scheduled to leave the refinery.
Established in 1998, Surrey’s Public Art Program aims to “transform the city’s landscape and its residents who live, work, and play in it. Public art has the power to grab our attention, make us stop, think, ask questions, consider a new perspective, and spark conversations.”
-With a file from Matthew Claxton