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Haida manga artist Michael Nicoll Yhagulanaas

Photos by Yukiko Onley

Even before I knew who he was, Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas stood out in a crowd. This was at an Anthropology Museum reception in Vancouver last November.

It wasn't hard to guess that he was an artist of some kind because of how he looked. He was wearing funky eye-glasses, his light blond hair had a stylish cut and he was wearing a fun print shirt. But when he told me he was Haida, I realized that I had had a fixed image of how Haida people or any other First Nation people should look. He did not fit my image at all.


Yahgulanaas told me that he does 'Haida manga art' -- "manga" being Japanese comics. Although manga has become a popular art in recent years, it was originally developed in late 19th-century Japan, and was a form of story-telling in the style of comics.

After initially becoming involved in Native rights movements, he finally decided to devote his life to developing an art form of his own. In recent years, he has been working in diverse mediums, from writing books to sculpting with copper. He is one of the most hard working and prolific artists I know. Just recently the British Museum acquired a piece from the Michael's 'Copper from the Hood' series. Dr. Robert Storrie, curator for the North American collection at the British Museum said of the acquisition the most important and significant addtion to the collection for many years.

It took a few months to organize the portrait sitting with Michael, as it always is with succssful artists. The day he came to my studio to be photographed, he suggested that he should draw on the backdrop I use to photograph portraits in my studio. he went out again in the rain to pick up a brush and a bottle of black ink.

It did not take him too long to get started. Yahgulanaas appered to be totally enjoying the process. Although he is in his mid-fifities, he looked almost boyish when he smiled. He told me that he feels guilty not spending much time with his daughter because he is working all the time. He also said that, to improve, he tries to discipline himself to paint every day.

Since then, he is constantly sending me emails informing of his latest activities, about a newly-published book, a new acquisition by a museum or an exhibition somewhere. It's a sure sign that he's one of the new age artists who are not only good artists, but are also excellent at promoting their work. Indeed, Michael is a cool Haida artist for our times.

Of course, I kept his paintings on my backdrop.

Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas is a Vancouver based Haida artist.

Yukiko Onley is a Vancouver based photographer.

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