This was the first piece Raymond Boisjoly showed in Seattle in 2009 at Crawl Space (R.I.P.).
This was the first piece Raymond Boisjoly showed in Seattle in 2009 at Crawl Space (R.I.P.). Courtesy of the artist

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There are 4,351 faculty members at the University of Washington, as many people as live in, say, the small town of Buckley, Washington. But only a few are artists holding full-time, tenure-track jobs. Two or three open positions at the UW School of Art is a big deal, and this year, the school has been searching for replacements for retired veterans Akio Takamori, Paul Berger, and art historian Pat Failing.

There's plenty of talk behind the scenes while we wait through the searches. We know one person who won't be coming to Seattle. Raymond Boisjoly was offered the job overseeing all things photo and video at UW—they call it Photomedia—but he turned it down to stay where he is, in Vancouver, B.C. The Emily Carr University of Art + Design fought for Boisjoly, and got him.

His reasons are interesting enough to note. Vancouver is generally recognized as a better springboard to Europe and the broader contemporary art circuit than Seattle. But when I talked to Boisjoly, he said his motivation to stay in B.C. was the opposite. He stayed because of blood and tradition—to root more deeply there. Seattle made "a very competitive offer, but ECUAD has a quickly growing number of Indigenous students, and I am always finding out I am distantly related to some of them."

Boisjoly is Haida and Quebecois. In 2012, I wrote a review of his work called "A Totem Pole Made of Christmas Lights." The totem pole in question was a degraded version of the form, based on a tourist tchotchke made in China and strung with colored lights. But I'll be damned if the eight-foot-tall thing also wasn't endearing, warm, and compassionate. It was a simple, economical gesture with complicated emotional results.

There's another facet of Boisjoly's decision that relates to his identity. Non-indigenous people visiting or living in Seattle have always made the mistake of believing that the more vivid art of the Haida, Tlingit, and Kwakwaka'wakw people—widely available at commercial galleries and featured in museum exhibitions like the one now at Seattle Art Museum—is the indigenous art of this region, when those tribes instead are based hundreds of miles north.

The indigenous art of this immediate region is Salish art. It's shyer. "They definitely are marginalized," said Boisjoly, who if he'd taken the UW position, might sometimes have felt like a cultural raider in Salish territory.

Keep that in mind as you wander Indigenous Beauty at SAM, noticing that the private collections include very, very few objects of this region. One Salish drum hangs high in a corner, quietly watching over it all.

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This 19th-century deer hide drum is the only object in SAMs current indigenous exhibitions thats actually from here. Its Duwamish. The Duwamish tribe still does not have federal recognition.
This 19th-century deer hide drum is the only object in SAM's current indigenous exhibitions that's actually from here. It's Duwamish. The Duwamish tribe still does not have federal recognition. JG

UW's search to fill the Photomedia position continues with a public lecture on Wednesday by the next candidate: the also-fascinating Aaron Flint Jamison (at UW School of Art, room 003, 5 pm). Next week we can expect an announcement about all the positions, according to spokeswoman Leena Joshi.

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