New Royal Portrait exhibit by Morgan Asoyuf underscores significant role of Indigenous matriarchy, emphasizes tribal system and environmental custodianship
During a week in which the Pope, in Canada, apologized to Indigenous school survivors, Morgan Asoyuf’s new exhibit at the Metal Museum is particularly timely. Morgan’s grandmother of the Ts-msyen Eagle Clan and her great-grandmother were both residential school survivors.
“They are out on the frontlines,” reads an exhibition panel, “fighting for land and water rights, raising awareness of the huge issues around Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and standing up for our children, families and communities.”
As described in the exhibition, “Our art represents laws and histories from our potlatch culture, and the matriarchy is inherent in the art form. Total poles and frontlets were and are our legal documents. They state personal history, land ownership, and other legal rights. Much of this has been taken away.”
Her exhibition re-envisions the crowns, scepters, mantles and jewelry that identify leaders while also making a point about the power struggle seen in her Northwest Indigenous community, particularly around land rights, environmental custodianship and the sovereignty of Indigenous peoples.
“It is a crucial time for our people to create conversations around traditional societal structures, power and leadership,” Asoyuf stated. “We must properly acknowledge our matriarchs.”
Asoyuf’s use of such adornment in her art confronts the traditional societal structures that have existed for eons and recalibrates the power balance toward the matriarch to start important conversations around who should bear the responsibility for caring for one’s community and the land they inhabit.
In Ts’ymsen culture, matriarchs hold a special high-ranking position. By featuring regalia adorning Indigenous matriarchs and activists, Asoyuf highlights matriarchal power within the Northwest Coast system as a legitimization of Indigenous sovereignty. Her work speaks to the importance of prominent issues such as Land Back, Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women & Two Spirit Individuals, and environmental custodianship.
Tributaries: Morgan Asoyuf | Royal Portrait will be at the Metal Museum Keeler Gallery from July 24 – Sept. 25. A closing reception and artist talk will be held at the end of the exhibition; event details TBD.
About the Artist
An artist and teacher, Asoyuf apprenticed with several wood sculptors before studying at The Crucible (Oakland, CA), Vancouver Metal Art School (Bowen Island, BC), and Revere Academy (San Francisco, CA). She is a member of the Ts’ymsen Eagle Clan from Ksyeen River (Prince Rupert area), British Columbia, Canada.