Ts'msyen artist honours matriarchs and activists with new exhibition

Ts'msyen artist Morgan Asoyuf is taking a closer look at what royalty means to Indigenous northwest coast people at a new exhibit for Vancouver's Bill Reid Gallery.

Asoyuf, 35, says royalty for the Ts'msyen people was based off how well you care for your people, your clan members and the land that you have ownership over. 

For this collection, she wanted to honour the people doing similar work in a more modern context. These included the frontline activists working on issues like climate justice, missing and murdered Indigenous women, and protesting the expansion of the Trans Mountain pipeline. 

A lot of these people, she says, are the community's matriarchs. 

Patrick Shannon/Bill Reid Gallery

"I wanted to really highlight some of the people that are doing that, which is a lot of the women and two-spirit on the frontlines," Asoyuf said. 

"I really wanted to honour these these people that I see out there all the time, sacrificing their time ... and money and everything to be out there protecting the land."

The pieces — carvings, jewelry, and portraits — have a variety of influences. 

Asoyuf, who is from Prince Rupert but currently lives in Squamish, apprenticed under a number of different artists including Haida artist Richard Adkins and Tsym'syen artist Henry Green, and attended Vancouver Metal Art School with German goldsmith Gerold Mueller. 

Patrick Shannon/Bill Reid Gallery

One of the pieces is a crown inspired by traditional, historic shaman crowns that featured protruding bear claws and fur. 

The art is intensely personal, Asoyuf says.

"I would say that every single piece has blood, sweat and tears in it," she said. " I've always said about my work that it's like having a child.

"It goes off and lives its own life after, outside of me, but it comes from me and my family and my history."

Patrick Shannon/Bill Reid Gallery

Royal Portrait at the Bill Reid Gallery runs until Jan. 19, 2020.