Vancouver Mural Fest unveils massive artwork for National Indigenous Peoples Day

Jun 21 2021, 10:49 am

Acclaimed xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam) weaver and graphic designer Debra Sparrow and Vancouver Mural Fest (VMF) today unveiled a historical massive artwork for National Indigenous Peoples Day.

Blanketing The City IV: Cathedral Square is the first large-scale semi-permanent public art collaboration between weaving artists from the three local nations – xwməθkwəy̓ əm (Musqueam), Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish) and səl’ilwətaɁɬ (Tsleil-Waututh) – in over 200 years.

Cathedral Square, located at Richards and Dunsmuir streets, is a park that obscures a large below-grade BC Hydro sub-station. It was one of a few permanent structures designed by Bruno Freschi for Expo ’86, with six massive, bare cement pillars now transformed with a design created by Sparrow in collaboration with master weavers Chief Janice George (Sḵwxwú7mesh) and Angela George (səlilwətaɬ).

Blanketing the City IV – Cathedral Square artist render by Gabriel Hall (Submitted)

“To wrap these pillars in our history is really amazing because we were over there in ‘86 just starting and now here we are taking threads and actually wrapping them around those cylinders to reflect the shared histories of the Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-waututh,” said Sparrow in an interview with Daily Hive Urbanized.

“That’s really significant for the three of us weavers to come together.

“It’s also significant for the City of Vancouver to have that history standing on top of the power plant where electricity is held for the whole city and having the top of the ground hold the designs that reflect the people whose very ground those electric lines [run through]. To wrap those pillars is the way we’re going to honour our ancestors who were wrongly done in history and share that now with the city. We invite people to come and see the beautiful vision of our histories through the work we do.”

Debra Sparrow (Submitted)

Blanketing The City IV: Cathedral Square is one of VMF 2021’s featured Community Projects, which also include Black Strathcona Resurgence Project and Punjabi Market: Murals In The Market. From August 4 to 22, over 60 new murals will be painted and unveiled in 11 different neighbourhoods.

VMF will also host daily mural tours, in-person and online public talks, and over 40 live performances at an open-air, pop-up patio in the festival’s original home of Mount Pleasant.

Blanketing The City is a public art mural series and Reconciliation process designed by Sparrow in collaboration with VMF. The partnership began in 2017 when the artist approached the festival after the 2nd annual summer event to ask where the Musqueam representation was.

“It was a process over many cups of tea and batches of bannock from the oven that Debra shared her vision to ‘blanket the city in Salish weaving designs,” said Andrea Curtis, Executive Director of VMF. “The designs used in traditional Coast Salish weaving are not only shared amongst the three local nations, but fall into the traditional domain of women.

“Supporting and raising visibility for Indigenous artists is an on-going priority for Vancouver Mural Festival. Blanketing The City IV is the latest large-scale, visual example of this. We’re proud to continue our partnership on this series and support our three local Nations in bringing this historical project to life.”

Chief Janice George (Submitted)

According to Chief Janice George, Blanketing The City IV is an homage to the ancestors and the grandmothers.

“From the beginning of time, the women have always held up the people,” said George. “They fed the people, they moved those blankets and baskets for sale to buy food for the people. Our women take care of the people, so I just feel like it’s a beautiful homage to them. I love that part and that makes me emotional.”

For Angela George, working on the project was an important opportunity for the three artists to learn from each other.

It’s always nice to spend time with (Debra and Janice) to learn and expand my knowledge base as a weaver, as an artist and as an indigenous woman,” explained George. “When we come together we can expand our knowledge base.

“It’s not like there’s an encyclopedia or a book of knowledge that we can refer to when it comes to weaving. So much of it was carried on historically through oral traditions, so it’s important for us to come together and reignite those oral traditions through our collaboration and opportunities to work together on projects. I have immense love and respect for [Debra and Janice] and I’m just so proud and honoured to be working with them again.”

Angela George (Submitted)

Sparrow, George and George invite everyone to come and see Blanketing The City IV and learn about the three local nations.

“There’s a beautiful saying that [says] “without a vision, people perish” and our vision was [uprooted] by history and yet it didn’t fully disappear but we brought that vision back,” said Sparrow. “Because this is a vision of not only our ancestors but a vision of our people today… this is about how we tell the story of the Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-waututh.”

DOWNLOAD THE VMF MOBILE APP to find and learn about over 300 murals—including 60+ new murals—across the city. Visit and follow @vanmuralfest for details, event calendar, and updates for Vancouver Mural Festival 2021 (August 4 to 22).

Daily Hive is a proud media partner of the 2021 Vancouver Mural Festival

Daniel ChaiDaniel Chai

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