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Why he doesn’t like the term ‘traditional Native art’ Cook insists he’s not a political artist, but Ravenous and an earlier piece called Idle No More, which criticizes the government for the Indian Act, definitely carry a point of view. Cook realizes deviating from what’s expected from him, that is safe, “authentic” Native art, may alienate some people but he’s unapologetic. “There are lots of galleries who would say, ‘Well, we’d never carry that because it’s not traditional.’ They’re telling you that because that’s what they can sell. I think that handicaps a lot of artists because they have to pay their bills and a lot of them become stuck. There’s no artistic growth in that.” La Tiesha Fazakas, owner and curator of Vancouver’s Fazakas Gallery which is mounting Cook’s September show called Form-a-Line, admits it’s easier to sell what’s safe and proven but adds “That’s one of the things I like about Rande, he’s willing to take risks and challenge the audience.” The show focuses on formline, the traditional Northwest Coast custom of outlining the subject in flowing, curving lines and then colouring it in. Always inventive, Cook reduces and simplifies the outlines, pushing them towards the abstract. “His art and his culture are for sale on his terms,” Fazakas says. “That means you don’t get to appropriate his culture; you get to appreciate his culture.” Why his upcoming fashion show is so important Cook cherishes his Aboriginal roots — as a hereditary chief of the ‘Namgis tribe, Kwakwaka’wakw First Nation, he travels to Alert Bay every two months to attend potlatches and immerse himself in tribal life — but he’s a man of the times too, choosing to work with many styles and materials, paint, photography, film, you name it. For the past two years he’s been working on a performance piece, which he plans to unveil in Victoria in 2016 (date to be announced). The goal is to take traditional origin stories and bring them up to date through fashion. “There’s going to be old-fashioned music with DJs mixing new beats,” he says. “There’s going to be a video put together with some old Edward Curtis images dissolving into modern images and then traditional thunderbird costumes will lead couture dresses out on the stage to show the progression.” It promises to be a mix of fun, fashion and history — and yes, Cook is making a point. He wants us to recognize Aboriginal art can be hip and modern and not stuck in the past. “I think for our culture to live, especially within our own people, we need to make it fresh,” he says. “We need to keep reinventing. I don’t want to be pigeonholed as an Indian artist.” And neither, he says, do his peers. ::
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