Manuel Axel Strain
Smudging The English Dictionary
June 14 – August 29, 2021
Manuel Axel Strain is a non-binary 2-Spirit artist of xʷməθkwəy̓əm (Musqueam), Simpcw and Inkumupulux ancestry who currently lives on the stolen, sacred and ancestral homelands and waters of the sq̓əc̓iy̓aɁɬ təməxʷ (Katzie) and Kwantlen peoples.
Strain uses their art practice to confront and undermine the imposed realities of colonialism, proposing a new space beyond oppressive systems of power. The photographic work Smudging the English Dictionary (2021) bears witness to the ongoing intergenerational trauma associated with the attempted erasure of Indigenous bodies, languages, ceremonies and medicines at the hands of settler colonialists in so-called Canada. Smudging is a sacred ceremony that many Indigenous peoples practice. This often involves the burning of plants like sage, sweetgrass, cedar and tobacco to cleanse and purify people and places. In this work Strain is smudging with sage picked by their mother in their Secwepemcúl’ecw (Secwépemc) homelands. By reclaiming ancestral ceremony and cleansing a politically charged lexicon, Strain honours the resiliency of Indigenous people and makes space for healing and resistance.
The work Smudging the English Dictionary was presented congruently with the exhibition Teiakwanahstahsontéhrha’ | We Extend the Rafters by Skawennati, a Kanien’kehà:ka (Mohawk) artist. By grounding their work in the wisdom of their ancestors, Strain cleanses the past and witnesses present injustices, while Skawennati speaks to the reclamation and futurity of Indigenous languages, histories and traditions across Turtle Island.
About the Artist | Manuel Axel Strain
Manuel Axel Strain often creates artworks in collaboration with their relatives. This connection to kin is a source of agency that flows through their art practice, as they work with the land and across performance, painting, sculpture, photography, video, sound and installation. References to the artist’s lived experiences emerge in their artworks, tackling subject matter like resource extraction, gender, Indigenous medicine, Indigeneity, labour and Strain’s ancestral and community ties to the land.
Strain is a participant in Evergreen Cultural Centre’s inaugural Emerging Creators Incubator as well as the exhibition (Re)visions, taking place at the Art Gallery at Evergreen in August 2021. They have exhibited work in Capture Photography Festival, Vancouver, and have shown work at the Vancouver Art Gallery and Surrey Art Gallery, as well as at more distant places across Turtle Island. Strain attended Emily Carr University of Art + Design, Vancouver, but prioritizes Indigenous epistemologies through the embodied knowledge of their mother, father, siblings, cousins, aunties, uncles, nieces, nephews, grandparents and ancestors.