‘Unbelievable’ Encourages Critical Thinking of Stories and History

Tuesday 01st, August 2017 / 10:50
By Sarah Jamieson

“Unbelievable” Pauline Johnsons dress photo by Johnson Pauline Estate

VANCOUVER – A new exhibition at the Museum of Vancouver takes a provocative look at Vancouver’s history and future through iconic artifacts, replicas, and symbols, each of which have shaped the city’s narrative and identity.

Unbelievable, which runs until September 24, is all about the “power of story and what people choose to believe,” says Gregory Dreicer, Director of Curatorial & Engagement.

Dreicer organized the artifacts in four months as collaborative partner with HCMA Architecture + Design, a private company specializing in architecture and design management. He hopes the exhibit encourages people to think critically about the stories they choose to accept or reject. He calls the collection “of the moment,” inspired by a post-truth society where fake news, alternative facts, and falsehoods are now commonplace. As a historian, Dreicer knows that there are multiple sides to a story and what constitutes as truth may be more complex. To illustrate this further, the interactive exhibit lists several ‘facts’ where visitors can post sticky notes rating how true they believe each statement to be.

Other well-known Vancouver objects also make an appearance, like the original “R” from The Ridge sign. The storied Arbutus Street theatre, shopping, and entertainment complex was a “heart in the community” according to Dreicer, but has now been torn down and replaced by condos and a grocery store.

The exhibit also explores Vancouver’s history of activism. One of the artifacts includes the costume of the official Olympic Games mascot, Quatchi, contrasted with Squatchi, an imitative mascot used by protestors. As well, the display explores how activism halted the once-planned highway project that would have destroyed present-day Chinatown.

Another aspect shows Vancouver’s complicated history with First Nations. A few artifacts include the Thunderbird totem pole that appeared Edward Curtis’ 1914 work In the Land of the Head Hunters, originally commissioned by Chief Tsa-wee-kok for Gway’i/Kingcome Inlet, and the costumes of actor Pauline Johnson, who designed her clothing to play to an ‘authentic image’ that white fans expected.

Unbelievable shows visitors that there isn’t a single version of history — it often involves conflicting narratives and perceptions, all of which may be true.

Unbelievable runs at the Museum of Vancouver until September 24.