First Nation Canadian artist Sonny Assu completed Dance as Though the Ancestors are Watching as part of his residency at the University of East Anglia.

The painting responds to a masterwork of the university’s art collection (housed in the Sainsbury Centre), a late-19thcentury ceremonial robe from the Chilkat Tlingit area of present-day British Columbia and South Alaska.

Assu was born in British Columbia and is from the We Wai Kai First Nation. He graduated from Emily Carr University, Vancouver, in 2002. He has since become known for work which aims, he has written, ‘to bring to light the dark, hidden history of Canada’s actions/inactions against the Indigenous people’.

The shape of the painting follows the form of the robe, which itself is woven with imagery based on whale and other animal mythology. Assu integrates these forms with abstractions of 21st-century consumer graphics. In this way he explores the effects of colonisation on the indigenous people of North America.

This acquisition demonstrates the continuing practices of art on the northwest coast of America and provides a link between Assu and the unnamed artists of the region in the UEA collection.


The painting was made as part of a residency and belongs to the artist with the sale of the work c/o the gallery that represents him, The Baldwin Gallery

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