Manuel Axel Strain


August 1 2020, and September 27 2020

Artist Website

The Fort Gallery is honoured to present Ancestral Ties to the Flood, an exhibition of new work by Manuel Axel Strain. Strain is a 2-spirit interdisciplinary artist of Musqueam/Simpcw/Syilx heritage based on the unceded territory of the Katzie and Kwantlen peoples. Ancestral Ties to the Flood is the fourth in a series of five exhibitions at the Fort Gallery exploring the social, cultural, and environmental significance of the Fraser River.

In a time when so many indigenous communities still lack clean drinking water, basic infrastructure like dykes and sovereignty over their lands, waters and bodies Strain’s poetic and pointedly political exhibition challenges viewers to consider the interrelationship of waters and indigenous bodies.

Strain’s mother’s singing echoes through the darkened gallery as the voice of the river; her song speaks to the ways that indigenous understandings of family provide solace from the joint pressures of colonialism and capitalism. In a video Strain dances before the Fort Langley railway crossing wearing regalia fashioned from deconstructed neon safety vests, asking the question: who or what is deemed safe and visible? Sandbags, strewn throughout the sparse gallery space, reference the ways that indigenous communities fortify themselves, not only against literal floods, but also the tides of colonial violence that seek to erase indigenous bodies and title. A multimedia installation unites images of Strain’s disembodied arms with audio from Delta Port drawing parallels between the trauma that marks both lands and indigenous bodies.

For Strain, the flood imagery is layered, on one hand referring to the literal floods that plague First Nations reserves, on the other hand, a metaphor for the power of indigenous resistance to colonial oppression. Inspired by recent widespread action against the TMX pipeline, and rail blockades in support of Wet’suwet’en sovereignty, Strain’s exhibition honours indigenous labour to protect lands, waters and air. The rising tide of indigenous-led resistance is, for Strain, a fertile and life-giving flood that inspires hope for their future relations.

Strain will open and close their exhibition with a live performance on the shores of Bedford Channel on Friday, August 21 at 7:30 pm 2020 and Sunday, September 27 at 6:30 pm 2020.