‘Haida Modern’ review
By Jerrison Oracion, Senior Columnist
You may have seen Robert Davidson’s artwork in your neighbourhood—for example, many totem poles in British Columbia, or his piece “Hugging the World” in the Vancouver International Airport. Davidson’s work has been seen around the world; he has made art that is true to his heritage for 50 years now. His work methods, inspirations, and life are explored in a new documentary called Haida Modern.
It is directed by Charles Wilkinson, who has directed other local documentaries including Oil Sands Karaoke, Haida Gwaii: On the Edge of the World, and his previous documentary, Vancouver: No Fixed Address (I actually had a small appearance in this movie during a scene where a group of musicians perform on Granville Street). In the movie, we see Davidson making his artwork at his workshop in Haida Gwaii—we witness how precise he is when carving and painting one of his masterpieces. His artwork is also showcased with zoom ins, panning shots, and close-ups to highlight the small details in his carvings.
He has not only made art in the province but also makes commissioned artwork for the rest of the world. Throughout the documentary, Wilkinson follows Davidson as he goes around the world (New York and Texas) to showcase his work. They also participate in Indigenous ceremonies. The documentary shows how Davidson expresses his thoughts on the world and how it should be fixed, connecting those thoughts with reconciliation and the current political landscape.
Davidson’s family is also interviewed—the film reflects on his legacy, the many people that love him, and those that argue that he is one of the most important artists in modern history. While Davidson is a serious woodcarver, he also has a sense of humour and wears cool shirts.
The scenes where we see him carving are interesting; the panning shots add to the artwork and gives you a more in depth view. His skill teaches the viewer that the wood must be carved a lot of times to make it look very detailed. Learning more about the totem poles and art exhibitions that he has created will make you appreciate them more.
During a Q&A of the documentary at the Vancouver International Film Festival this year, Wilkinson talked about how they filmed Haida Modern. They filmed the interview sections with Davidson with total of three sessions, and the rest of the filming was him working in his studio and showing his artwork. Then, the Other Press asked Wilkinson if there is anything was particularly interesting to him about seeing Davidson working, and he told us that he was fascinated by the cutting of the wood since his family actually worked in the sawmill industry. We also asked Davidson what advice he would give to any artists that like to do Indigenous art and his advice is this: do your homework.
After the Q&A, we talked to Davidson and asked him how his trip to New York City was. He said that it was great, and how he envisioned the city. If you do not know a lot about Robert Davidson and his famous artwork, Haida Modern is a great explanation of it.
Haida Modern will be shown again at the Vancouver Playhouse on October 11 at 3 pm, and will air on Knowledge Network soon.