Prior to colonization, tobacco was among the most widely exchanged materials in the Americas. Later, it became the first currency in the North American colonies, used by the British settlers to leverage wages, taxes, and fines. However, “in Indigenous economies, tobacco was not simply a trading commodity,” notes Gabrielle L’Hirondelle Hill, a Métis artist and writer who lives and works on the unceded lands of the Sḵwx̱wú7mesh, Musqueam, and Tsleil-Waututh peoples. Projects: Gabrielle L’Hirondelle Hill, the artist’s first solo museum exhibition in the United States, brings together works made primarily with tobacco, alluding to the plant’s complex Indigenous and colonial histories.
“The Indigenous economic life of tobacco has survived colonization, criminalization, and the brutal imposition of capitalism,” Hill observes. “Tobacco continues to circulate among Indigenous peoples, passing from hand to hand, traveling along the highways that themselves follow the pre-colonial trade routes.” This exhibition features sculptures and drawings, including several new works, constructed from tobacco along with other materials, such as pantyhose and Crisco, as well as wildflowers and various small objects collected from Hill’s Vancouver neighborhood.