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The Paradise Syndrome

Sonny Assu The Paradise Syndrome

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Titled after an episode of Star Trek, The Paradise Syndrome features new work by Sonny Assu. Combining Indigenous content with appropriated images and text from marine chart maps, covers from Choose Your Own Adventuregamebooks, and science fiction television programs, this exhibition continues Assu’s exploration around the intersection of Indigenous Peoples and North American pop culture.

In the Star Trek episode The Paradise Syndrome, Captain Kirk suffers from amnesia when he arrives on an alien planet, which is inhabited by a society of people who resemble Indigenous Peoples in North America. Kirk is found by a group of women who believe that he is a god and then take him back to their community. At the end of the episode, he is attacked when they realize he is not a god. Spock and McCoy are transported to his rescue, but in the midst of the conflict, a tribal priestess who Kirk developed a relationship with, is killed.

In this exhibition, Assu presents two series of digitally altered prints inspired by fact and fiction. The first series depicts ovoids superimposed onto digital scans of paintings by Emily Carr and A.Y. Jackson, framed by gamebook covers. The prints feature alien forms descending, referencing a Star Trek: Voyager episode titled Tattoo.

In this episode, Chakotay meets the Sky Spirits, aliens who visited Earth thousands of years ago. They met nomadic humans who had great respect for the land and other animals. The Sky Spirits were so impressed that they gifted the nomads with an inheritance that would allow them to thrive and protect their world.

When the Sky Spirits returned thousands of years later, they found that the weapons and diseases of invaders from other lands had decimated the nomadic ‘Inheritors’. Chakotay’s tattoo was the mark of an Inheritor and signaled to the Sky Spirits that some of the Inheritors had survived.

Assu’s gamebook prints expand on this fictional story, incorporating aspects of our colonial history in the Pacific Northwest. This exhibition is a playful investigation of challenging issues. By incorporating nostalgic gamebooks from the 1980s, Assu alludes to the discovery of his Kwawaka’wakw heritage, which has recently led him back to living in his ancestral land.

The second series of Assu’s prints in this exhibition depict digital illustrations, inspired by Indigenous copper shield symbols, that are superimposed onto navigational marine maps of the Pacific Northwest. Many of the illustrations contain enlargements of the shapes of Indian reserves (marked by IR on the maps). Each of these enlargements take over the entire map, sending a powerful message that the area actually belongs to Indigenous Peoples.

Given the current climate around the rights of Indigenous Peoples, demonstrated by the assaults on protestors at Standing Rock and the diesel spill in Bella Bella, this exhibition describes Assu’s experience of colonialism. It illustrates an intimate and personal dreamscape, providing us with a moment to consider our understanding of territory and the effects of exploration.

Sonny Assu is a Liǥwildaʼx̱w (We Wai Kai) artist of the Kwakwaka’wakw nations. His work often focuses on Indigenous issues and rights, and how the past informs contemporary ideas and identities. His work has been accepted into the National Gallery of Canada, Seattle Art Museum, Vancouver Art Gallery, Museum of Anthropology at UBC, Burke Museum at the University of Washington, Art Gallery of Greater Victoria, Hydro Quebec, Lotto Quebec, and in various other public and private collections across Canada, the United States, and the UK.