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Gallery show combines Haida art, Japanese manga

Old roots grow new branches. The ancient aboriginal art of Canada's west coast is one of the definitive features of our national culture, and bright in that collection is Haida art.
red haida manga
Red: A Haida Manga, is a mural and graphic novel in one by Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas. Red is on display at the Two Rivers Gallery.

Old roots grow new branches.

The ancient aboriginal art of Canada's west coast is one of the definitive features of our national culture, and bright in that collection is Haida art.

The cutting edge of today's pop culture is identified in the influence of Japanese and Korean tech-based art. Words like anime and hanryu are becoming commonplace on this side of the Pacific Rim, and another of those words is manga. It's a new style of comic book art but also has ancient foundations in Japan, just like Chilkat weaving and ovoid forms have ancient footings on the northwest coast of this region.

These two artistic dialects meet up in the art of Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas. Some of that is currently on the walls of the Two Rivers Gallery. Yahgulanaas is a rock star among modern British Columbia visual artists, and he will be at the gallery on Saturday for a 2 p.m. public discussion about the strong accents and impressions in the voice of his paintings and sculptures.

"I've always looked at indigenous art as having all kinds of capacity to absorb and innovate, and this body of work that Michael is doing is trying to incorporate those cultural influences of who and where we are now," said gallery curator George Harris.

Yahgulanaas has a neon career in art. His copper/steel archway dominates the agora in front of MacArthur Glen Mall near Vancouver International Airport. His 43-metre art fence grabs the eye along Knight Street at Kensington Park, in Vancouver.

He has also put his political hand towards forging a dignified coexistence between the new cultural contrivance called Canada that exists by choice and decision, and the immemorial aboriginal DNA of the Haida Nation that exists by the organic decree of time.

During his eloquent TEDx Talk, Yahgulanaas said "I've spent the last 60 years of my life working in the spaces between nation states and indigeneity."

These acts have put him on a tall public platform. Harris was, in this Lheidli territory that has always been a space between cultures, a transportation hub but with a central root culture more than 10,000 years consistently in place, intrigued by the Yahgulanaas point of view having a space here.

"I approached him," Harris said.

"A few years ago we spoke about doing a studio visit, we were unable to make it happen then, but he was on my radar ever since and we decided this year that a lot of the exhibitions we would host this year would be explorations of identity, and that really fit what he was doing, so we started to communicate again, a lot more, about possibly doing something together. We worked for quite a long time selecting the work. I spent a day with him in Vancouver at his studio, and it was a great time. He's a fascinating, very enjoyable guy. I think it'll be a great talk."

The Yahgulanaas show is on now and will remain in place until July 6. The whole exhibition is entitled The Seriousness of Play but one part of it is an exhibition within the larger show. It's called Red: A Haida Manga and it is a graphic novel that spans an entire wall. It has been a powerful and popular part of the gallery program this year.

Come meet Yahgulanaas, free of charge, see the art and listen to the artist explain the mental and spiritual paths he took to create it.

For more on Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas visit his website at