Alan Hunt (Kwakwaka’wakw), Cole Speck (Kwakwaka’wakw), with Aubrey Johnston Jr. (Haida)
On February 25th, 2020, the Northwest Coast indigenous Kwakwaka’wakw Atlakim ceremony was danced on the European continent for the first time—an event that has become part of the legacy of late Hereditary Chief, indigenous rights activist and carver, Beau Dick (1955 – 2017). Hereditary Chief Alan Hunt and 12 other members of the community traveled from Alert Bay, BC, to Scotland to perform the ceremony at the University of Edinburgh in conjunction with Pine’s Eye, an international group exhibition at Talbot Rice Gallery.
Bringing together 14 contemporary artists from both indigenous groups and the international art world, Pine’s Eye offers “alternative perspectives for how we understand ourselves in the face of environmental crisis.”
The Atlakim, known also as the Dance of the Forest Spirits, is one of the four main dances performed during Kwakwaka’wakw Winter Ceremonials; it tells the story of a boy who gets lost in the woods and is visited by many guiding spirits who teach him virtues. This iteration of the dance featured 15 new masks carved by Alan Hunt, Cole Speck, and Aubrey Johnston Jr., which will remain on display throughout the duration of the exhibition.
Talbot Rice curator James Clegg initially reached out to Fazakas to discuss the possibility of including Beau Dick’s Atlakim masks that had been part of documenta 14. Taking into consideration the fact that these masks were part of Dick’s personal regalia for which he could no longer grant permission, gallerist LaTiesha Fazakas instead recommended they show new masks carved by Hunt and Speck, and host the Atlakim performance. She facilitated this collaboration with key community members in Alert Bay, in particular Chief Hos (William Hawkins), who owns the rights to the Atlakim dance. This presentation in Edinburgh thus became a means of honouring Dick’s lifelong commitment to supporting his community and culture, and to lifting up younger and future Kwakwaka’wakw generations.