syilx artist David Wilson Sookinakin has three paintings featured in a new exhibition

Local Indigenous artwork from UBC Okanagan’s public art collection is now featured in the Ramble On exhibit at Vernon Public Art Gallery until March 9

syilx artist, David Wilson Sookinakin, is bringing traditional art to the foreground and is on display for the first time, alongside eight other artists, at the Vernon Public Art Gallery for the Ramble On exhibition.

Wilson says the Interior Salish pictographs, stars, and the syilx territory landscape inspired him for these three paintings, entitled “Spirit Horse and Rider,” “Northern Lights,” and “Syilx Territorial Study.”   

“I like to put images of the syilx traditional territory on my paintings, just so that if people ever ask or they hear about our traditional territory, then there is a painting that just depicts it,” says Wilson, who is an Okanagan Indian Band (OKIB) member. 

Wilson tells IndigiNews he uses a mix of various blue acrylic colours, on canvas, with a surreal modern style, using shapes and symbols of his syilx roots. 

Spirit Horse and Rider by syilx artist David Wilson Sookinakin. Submitted by Stacey koosel.
Northern Lights by David Wilson Sookinakin. Submitted by Stacey koosel.
Syilx Territorial Study by David Wilson Sookinakin. Submitted by Stacey koosel.

Wilson says he used a different size canvas for each of these paintings and that each piece did not have a timeline — he worked until they were finished.

“I like to create art that I identify with, not all my paintings really have a deep message to them.” 

Meet the artist

When Wilson was growing up in his community, in n’qmaplqs, head of Okanagan Lake (OKIB) he remembers a lack of traditional syilx art, and always wishing there were more. This, he said, is what inspired him to be an artist, and set him on a path to search Vernon Museum’s archives for traditional syilx art. 

“That’s where I found the book on pictographs in their archives. So I photocopied the bunch of images, took them home and started to create my own style of art,” says Wilson.  

Wilson says it has always been important that his cultural identity be represented in his work.

“Our pictographs: basically it’s like our ancient art. So that’s what draws me in, it’s something that our ancestors passed on down.”

Wilson explains his newly developed art style is a combination of Interior Salish pictographs and west coast art.

He was also inspired by local Indigenous artists, like Barry Brewer, who designed the Okanagan Indian Band’s porcupine logo.

“I was very young back then, and I still was influenced by it. You know, seeing the logo, it told me, this [is] what our art looks like,” Wilson says. 

Wilson says he is honoured to now have his artwork displayed in his hometown at the Vernon Public Art Gallery. 

Stacey Koosel, the curator of UBC Okanagan’s art gallery and its public art collection, says she wanted to create a space for Wilson’s work to be displayed.

“My goal as curator of UBC Okanagan Gallery is to promote and support Indigenous art in the Okanagan,” she says.

“David is really fantastic. He’s a very influential and noteworthy artist of the Okanagan.”

Only seven per cent of UBCO’s collection is by Indigenous artists, and Koosel says it’s time to change that and prioritize Indigenous art.

“I am an uninvited guest in syilx territory, so I’ve made it my priority as a newcomer to the Okanagan to get to know the syilx culture and artists and people,” says Koosel, who is Métis from Alberta. 

“We are happy to have David’s artwork displayed, and we’re really hoping to get more chances to commission works by him as well in the future.” 

Wilson, who has now been an artist for 20 years, hopes to inspire younger emerging artists to create traditional art. 

“You have just to keep creating, drawing, and believe in yourself. We have to train our hand’s minds,” Wilson says. “Remember, we all start out drawing stickmen, even the great Renaissance artist, like DaVinci.” 

The Vernon Public Art Gallery Ramble On exhibition will run until March 9.

Athena Bonneau is a storyteller for IndigiNews based in syilx Territory, you can read more of her work here.

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