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Brendan George Ko

Brendan George Ko, Hōkūleʻa on Her Way Home, 2017

January 11–March 10, 2018
Opening reception: Thursday, January 11, 6-9pm

Moemoeā, a solo exhibition by Canadian artist Brendan George Ko, explores the re-emergence of the Polynesian voyaging canoe in contemporary Hawai’i. Through photographs and video, Ko examines the ways in which the canoe has revitalized Hawaiian culture and created a community that brings together elders, youth, natives and non-natives.

In 1973, the Polynesian Voyaging Society (PVS) was formed to reconcile differing beliefs about the settlement of the Polynesian islands. Was Hawai’i discovered by aimless seafarers unintentionally, as the Western narrative maintained? Or was it found as the result of organized voyages at the hands of ancient explorers as early mythology indicates? The PVS built its first ancestral canoe, and in 1976 the Hōkūleʻa with its crew members travelled from Hawai’i to Tahiti and back, navigating by the stars and proving the skills of their ancestors. Since this inaugural journey, the canoe and its crew have voyaged extensively, most recently concluding a three-year, worldwide journey that included stops in Sydney, Cape Town, and New York City. It was during this voyage that the Hōkūleʻa traversed the St. Lawrence River to Kahnawá:ke Mohawk Territory in Quebec. Amongst the crew on this leg of the journey were educators from Pūnana Leo, a Hawaiian language school which was influenced by the Mohawks of Kahnawá:ke's model of indigenous language education since the early 1980’s.

The exhibition title, Moemoeā (a vision found in dreams), was chosen by the artist to acknowledge the dream shared by the voyaging communities throughout the islands. Articulated through his dual perspectives as a non-Hawaiian and a crew member, Ko’s work foregrounds the idea of the canoe as a tool for change and empowerment. The exhibition includes portraits of the Hōkūleʻa and its navigators, builders, and crew members—known as the ohana wa’a or “family of the canoe.” Accompanying Ko’s photographs made in Kahnawá:ke is a Mohawk pledge to sovereignty, drawing a parallel to the shared vision of indigenous people around the world. His photographs collapse concepts of the ancient and the modern, depicting elements such as a mo’ai statue draped in ti leaves, a petroglyph of a double-hulled canoe, and a watermelon occupying a captain’s seat. A short, large-format video frames the canoe against the motion of the water and the vast landscape. Ambient sounds are punctuated by Hawaiian prayers and stories.

The voyaging canoe’s rebirth in the late 1970s coincided with a growing movement to reclaim native Hawaiian traditions and values, including the craft of the male hula, the playing of the steel guitar, and preservation of the Kānaka Maoli language, which had been outlawed in schools for much of the 20th century. With over fifty vessels now active throughout the Pacific Ocean, the canoe is a platform for teaching traditional knowledge that reaffirms and redefines identity and place for many. Ko’s work is a thoughtful and personal look at a unique part of Hawaiian culture, encompassing images of his own voyaging experiences and of the people he has shared them with.

Ko is the recipient of the 2017 Portfolio Reviews Exhibition Award. Chosen by an international jury, this award recognizes outstanding work presented at CONTACT’s annual Reviews.


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Scotiabank CONTACT Photography Festival
80 Spadina Avenue, Suite 205
Toronto, Ontario M5V 2J4
T 416 539 9595

CONTACT fosters and celebrates the art and profession of photography with an annual Festival in May and year-round programming in the CONTACT Gallery.

CONTACT, a not-for-profit organization founded in 1997, is generously supported by Scotiabank, Nikon Canada, Pattison Outdoor Advertising, La Fondation Emmanuelle Gattuso, Vistek, Dentons Canada LLP, Toronto Image Works, The Gilder, Transcontinental PLM, 3M Canada, Waddington's Auctioneers and Appraisers, Four By Eight Signs, Beyond Digital Imaging, Steam Whistle Brewing, Art Toronto, The Gladstone Hotel, The Globe and Mail, NOW Magazine, CBC Toronto, and Canadian Art.

CONTACT gratefully acknowledges the support of the Ontario Cultural Attractions Fund, Celebrate Ontario, Ontario Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport, Ontario Arts Council, The Government of Ontario, Partners in Art, Street Art Toronto (StART), Canada Council for the Arts, the Howard Webster Foundation, Goethe-Institut, the City of Toronto through the Toronto Arts Council, and all of our funders, donors, and programming partners.





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