I am internationally known Manga visual artist, creator of Haida Manga and sculptor Michael Nicoll Yahgulnaas. AMA!
Haida Manga is a blend of 2 different cultural appraoches. And in that, lies the theme of what i do. I'm not necessarily interested in one object or another as I am in the space between. I'm interested in hybridity, what happens when cultures connect. What does cultural diversity create? I believe it creates a third entity - it's not about indigenaity or non-indigenous, it's not about good versus evil, it's about the space between - how do we figure out the relationship.
Generally, I suspect that there's a lack of comfort with that. But that's what I am attracted to, because that's where I think creativity really comes from - when we first meet, it's what we first think of - that interesting moment when things become immensely important. They are foundational, because you build on it. It's not about taking over, replacing something that's there, it's about two dancers and how they hold hands as a third unit, the tertiary element.
I've been working in art all my life. Even when I was one of the organizers what I would say one of the most significant blockades in Canadian history, where we stood on roads and blocked logging roads in 1985 - no one had done this before. Even during that activist community-based political work that i was doing for 27 years, I was always doing art.
I'd been doing political art for nearly 30 years. And just realized that I had to get out of that to save my soul. You can't be in public service your entire life. You have to serve your time and get out of the way and let someone else come in. And so you can't have elites without tremendous cost to the entire system. If I didn't move into an art career, that I was never going to do that and I would spend the rest of my life hard on myself, and I didn't want to turn into a brittle, critical face. So I quit that career. And at the same time, i started to take Japanese university students out into the forest. And for them, they had never had a relationship with a tree closer than 40 KM. And I would take them to a place where you had to go 40 KM to find a light bulb - in deep green, mossy forests, on an archipelago immediately south of Alaska, immediately west of Canada.
So I would take these kids out, rent a big fishing boat, and I would lead them in the forest for 4 hours. It was amazing. I remember hearing these stories after picking them up, and one guy says "I probably stood for 2 hours, because I didn't see anything clean to sit on." And of course, people coming back just loaded, filled with emotional connection with something so big and beautiful as a living forest. There wasn't any terror. But there was one young woman who we had to arrange a signal so I could locate them - and I went back to try to find her, and I was running back and forth to see if she'd wandered back, and getting quite worried - and I'd been running, very concerned, and I saw her - I called out and I could see her mouth move, so I knew she made a sound, and kept my eyes on her and making noise until I was 12 feet away from her. And her sense of self as a young Japanese woman was so reduced that she couldn't speak loud enough to project her voice so I could hear her. She was so shy... she saw herself as so small.
What I learned from that general experience was something called Manga back in 2000. Manga at that point was not widely known in the western world, and they were talking about Manga-ka as quite well-known and respected artists. They were well-paid, published, people saw their artwork as a respectable contribution to the community. Compare that to what's happening in North America - the purview of young men suffering from hormone toxicity levels. It's not high brow art. So I was thinking I'm trying to take a complex, ancient iconic art form - which is totem poles, which is my cultural birthright, I guess, and translate that in a way that becomes accessible to regular people in primarily North America.
And the way to do it, I feel, is to do it in comic books. Because comic books are accessible. As much as the market used to be driven by young men, the thing about comic books is you don't need to be educated or privileged in any sense - you can come from any cultural background and read a comic book. I thought that using that medium would be a way to connect what I'd spend 30 years defending as a political activist.
So that's where I created Haida Manga.
But I don't want it to simply be seen through a Western lens. This is different. This is a graphic art form that is exotic to you, perhaps, but it comes out of the North Pacific, and when I heard from these Japanese students about Manga, I realized it was truly a North Pacific tradition - Manga being a tradition for centuries, and by merging Haida and Manga together, I would be positioning myself for a new generation of Haida manga.
There's also back history on Haida peoples of the Pacific and Japanese culture that is very friendly. At a time when if you were a first nations person in North America, you were subject to some pretty extreme racism.
Today, and over the next few days, we are going to have a graphic and text driven exploration of New York.
Through the lens of a graphic artist I will be touring New York and sharing impressions via reddit and other digital platforms. When people come to places that are unknown, to Japan or other communities, they observe and journal through their own eyes and peculiar views of how the Universe was organized, usually with white guys on top. And there's a whole societal structure made with assumptions about ethnicity and diversity based on those preliminary sets of explorations. Those assumptions still affect us and influence us today, in HUGE ways. And I want to sort of reverse that a little bit. And I want to say"Let's walk back, observe the city of New York, particularly these institutional structures like the Met or the American Natural History museum - they have artworks done by my relatives in their collection - these are inordinately valued artworks, that would fetch hundreds of thousands of dollars, priceless objects, and so they built these huge structures to hold and present these objects, and my question is - is this similar to when Napoleon returned back to France from the campaign in Egypt with his horse-drawn carts full of booty - including obelisks? I want to use my artwork as a way to re-translate those assumptions as they relate to people who are highly marginalized today - it's a commonality.
I am looking forward to your questions today.
Victoria is helping me get started. AMA.
Phase II: Thanks Victoria! We hopped on the 1 train and are now at the American Museum of Natural History! Drawing random things, taking requests, and then off to the Met!