“UNSETTLING” THE FOREST AS A CANADIAN NATIONALIST IMAGINARY: CONSENT, CONSULTATION, AND (RE)CONCILIATION IN LEILA SUJIR’S FOREST!
By Haema Sivanesan (Author)
Issue: Vol. 11 No. 2 (2020)
Leila Sujir’s ongoing stereoscopic 3D and Virtual Reality media art project, Forest! is situated in the old growth rainforests of the South Walbran Valley of Vancouver Island, on the traditional and ancestral lands of the Pacheedaht First Nation. Taking place more than a century and a half since the settling of Vancouver Island by British colonizers, which was soon followed by successive waves of immigration by Chinese, Japanese, South Asian, and other laborers, Sujir’s project comes up against the effects and consequences of settler colonialism in the forests of Vancouver Island, and reveals the complexities and paradoxes of Canada’s mandate for (re)conciliation with Indigenous peoples.
This paper explores Sujir’s process of artistic collaboration, works with a range of Indigenous, community, and artworld stakeholders, and draws on a heuristic methodology to navigate complex community and inter-racial dynamics. Sujir adopts a methodology of person-to-person conciliation as a means to mitigate Indigenous–settler tensions, developing this approach into a methodology of friendship as a means by which to secure a transparent working process that is accountable to the Pacheedaht First Nation. This in turn enables the artist to develop new transcultural understandings and a new picturing of the forest. This paper closely examines Sujir’s process in the development of two works—Forest Breath (2018) and Aerial (2019)—detailing both the difficulty and the importance of artistic collaboration in working towards an ideology of (re)conciliation with Indigenous peoples in Canada.