Back to Top

Nikes as Bridges

Aboriginal masks are made of Nike Air Jordan basketball shoes?    

A whale skeleton made of cut up plastic chairs?  

And can those totems really be off-the-rack baseball bats?

Take a minute to peruse the work of Brian Jungen to see what I’m talking about.   

Jungen is an artist born in Fort St. John, BC to Dane-zaa First Nation and Swiss parents. He gained notoriety for an exhibit at the Vancouver Art Gallery entitled Prototypes of New Understanding. I’m no art critic, much less a patron of the arts, but on the principle that even a blind squirrel finds an occasional nut, I managed to stumble across Jungen’s striking work.

Every artist engages in risky business; intended statements can be interpreted or misinterpreted in as many ways as a piece has viewers. Here is a little of what Jungen’s work has stirred in me. 

Living on Vancouver Island, I’ve managed to have at least of couple of close-ish encounters with whales and far too many encounters with plastic debris floating on the water and washed up on beaches. A plastic chair whale skeleton is quite beautiful but a haunting warning – given the way we care for oceans, is this the next step for the gentle giants of the sea?  

It’s the masks that really get me. Or is it the shoes that get me? Both are iconic in different circles. Daina Auguitis is the curator of the Vancouver Art Gallery. She wrote that Jungen’s work, “begins to dismantle some rigid social conventions by breaking down existing stereotypes.” (Byran Jungen, Vancouver Art Gallery). Nike Air Jordans are the domain of an African-American superstar and of any wanna-be who can afford to buy the shoes that bear his name. But with a little work and from a different angle, those same shoes become ancient masks of west coast Indigenous people. The two cultures are different. The two cultures are a lot closer than I thought. 

I find it comforting that the iconic shoes and masks are closer than I realized. Bridges of understanding and relationships are easier to build than you might think. I find it a little disconcerting that the iconic shoes and masks are closer than I realized. Even if we hadn’t noticed it, the bridges already exists and we have to start using them.   

Editor's note: Interested in using art as a bridge in your community? Check out Grace Vanberkel's work and get in touch with her at She's been helping congregations dig into the local history of their land and present what they learn visually. 

[Image: Flickr user Kyle DaShawn]

The Reformed family is a diverse family with a diverse range of opinions. Not all perspectives expressed on the blog represent the official positions of the Christian Reformed Church. Learn more about this blog, Reformed doctrines, and our diversity policy on our About page.

In order to steward ministry shares well, commenting isn’t available on Do Justice itself because we engage with comments and dialogue in other spaces. To comment on this post, please visit the Christian Reformed Centre for Public Dialogue’s Facebook page (for Canada-specific articles) or the Office of Social Justice’s Facebook page. Alternatively, please email us. We want to hear from you!

Read more about our comment policy.