Usufruct and colonialism is exposed through Indigenous art
Nivedan Kaushal, Arts & Culture Editor
Acclaimed artist, political activist and residential school survivor Lawrence Paul Yuxweluptun approaches a woman sitting in the front row during his lecture. “This mug belongs to you, but I’ve taken it. You own it, I have it – I’m using it. You’re not benefiting from this, yet this mug belongs to you. This is an act of usufruct. Come back in 200 years with a good lawyer, and maybe I’ll give it back.” On behalf of Capilano University’s Liberal Studies program, Yuxweluptun gave a talk titled I am Having a Bad Colonial Day on Nov. 2, 2018. He discussed usufruct, defined by the Oxford Online Dictionary as “the right to enjoy the use and advantages of another’s property short of the destruction or waste of its substance,” and how his art exposes the way usufruct has been implemented as a technique to suppress Indigenous cultures.
Of Coast Salish and Okanagan descent, Yuxweluptun was born in Kamloops in 1957 and partook in the “Canadian cultural paradigm” – he played hockey for 30 years, and eventually studied European aesthetics at Emily Carr University – after transferring from the residential school system to a public school in Richmond. Yuxweluptun’s parents, who were also advocates for Indigenous rights, profoundly influenced his artistic philosophy, generating work which has been described as “phantasmagoric, ferocious, loving and deeply disturbing.” Over his more than 35 year career, Yuxweluptun has created numerous paintings, many of which now reside in the National Gallery of Canada, that sharply critique the way colonial and usufructuary practices affect Indigenous peoples’ daily lives. As Yuxweluptun said himself in reference to Indigenous relations in Canada, “We will always be enemies, because we’ve never been friends. That’s what I paint – our relationship of hate with each other.”
Many of Yuxweluptun’s works depict what he terms “super predators,” the social, economic and political elite who exercise usufruct and negate Indigenous rights. Two such paintings are Christy Clark and the Kinder Morgan Go-Go Girls, which depicts the former BC Premier with the head of an animal painted in an Indigenous style, and Fucking Creeps They’re Environmental Terrorists, which shows Big Oil CEOs decimating the environment. Other paintings were created to respect the victims of colonial oppression. “That’s why I make art – to record history, to interpret your culture from my world,” said Yuxweluptun. Portrait of a Residential School Child, for instance, is in honour of the 150,000 First Nations, Inuit and Métis children who were taken from their families and forced to attend residential schools from the 1870s to the 1990s.
Despite being a critic of “the system,” Yuxweluptun firmly believes that change can only come from within the current political framework itself. He urges citizens to vote for a truly representative government, and believes that the easiest action they can take to help Indigenous political presence is to advocate for National Indigenous Peoples Day to become a nationwide holiday. “All of this painting… it’s to show you there’s nothing to be afraid of. It’s so that people can understand and not hate me – hate us – anymore,” he said “I am here to just facilitate a dialogue between two clashing worlds.”