New exhibition explores artists’ relationship to the land.
Seven artists who participated in the National accessArts Centre’s (NaAC) Indigenous Ways of Knowing program are sharing their artworks in a new exhibition at the Leighton Art Centre called Ways of Making Presents: Hey You! Land!
The year-long program introduced NaAC artists to Elders and Indigenous artists who engaged the group in critical conversations about Indigenous history, art, and culture. Through discussion, the artists developed a deeper appreciation for the connections between the experiences of Indigenous Peoples’ and those of people with disabilities. As Richelle Bear Hat, Indigenous Programs Coordinator with the NaAC describes, the time had come for the group to shift from conversation to creation.
“It was important for us to transition Indigenous Ways of Knowing from a discussion group to an art-making group, and encourage our artists to translate their experiences and moments of connection into individual ways of making,” says Richelle. “We were good at sharing our life experiences and passions with each other, so we considered how we could share those stories beyond our group.”
Hey You! Land! is the culminating mixed-media exhibition that explores the artists’ personal discoveries throughout their Indigenous Ways of Knowing experience.
Courage Loves Company
Creating a show of this nature is deeply personal, says Richelle. Not only were the artists invited to explore their own connection to the land, but to do so in a public forum. “It was important for our team to make sure the artists felt secure in sharing. That’s a critical consideration for any artist because when you’re creating art, you’re in a vulnerable position.”
Although creating their own exhibition was a significant undertaking, the artists had a warm-up show in the spring when they produced art for New Work, New Ways.
“That exhibition experience gave the artists a moment to ease into it,” says Richelle. “Earlier this year they made smaller pieces of work, experimented and played a bit, and by summer they were in full art-making mode for the new show.”
Connection to the land
Hey You! Land! features new works from NaAC artists Kathy M. Austin, Pudge Cuch, Daniel Desaulniers, Cherie Morgan, Meg Ohsada, Andre Paradis, and Kacy Salkeld.
The exhibition name is also a NaAC artist creation, says Richelle, explaining how the name materialized as the artists worked with Kay Thomas, an Indigenous facilitator. “During Kay’s discussion with the artists, they challenged them to think about their role within land acknowledgments, and to go beyond acknowledging the original caretakers of this land; they wanted them to reflect on their own personal history and relationship to this land.”
Kay asked the group to imagine the land as a friend. They asked, “What would you want to say to it?” Andre Paradis spoke up and said, “Hey You! Land!”
“It was short and sweet, and as the artists started their work for this exhibition, we saw how well they connected with one another and realized that the title was perfect,” says Richelle.
And as the artists began to create, prominent themes emerged in Hey You! Land!
Kathy M. Austin, a legally blind interdisciplinary artist, pulls from the pages of her dream journals to create a fluid acrylic painting called Childhood Home.
“The unpredictability of the medium represents a sense of time and how you grow with a memory,” explains Richelle. “Kathy’s childhood home, which exists only in her memory, is a very tender, specific part of her identity.”
The painting appears printed on transparent vinyl in one of the gallery windows. “Depending on the time of day you see the painting, the light pulls out different colours and changes how you see the image,” explains Richelle. “There’s a softness with the fluid acrylic that works so well; it’s a beautiful piece.”
Cherie Morgan embraces learnings from Indigenous Ways of Knowing around the significance and hidden meanings of dreams in Indigenous culture. Dreams Matter is a hanging fabric artwork made from denim and colourful fabrics that depict a person surrounded by four dream bubbles.
“It was important for Cherie to acknowledge the part of herself that believes dreaming is a way that her body communicates with her—and to pay attention to that,” explains Richelle. “The dream bubbles represent different emotions and messages that dreams hold.”
Swamp 2 is a continuation of Daniel Desaulniers’s work Swamp which was exhibited in New Work, New Ways earlier this year. To honour his connection to land, Daniel uses wool and natural objects from his home and family’s cabin in British Columbia.
“Daniel’s work is very site specific,” says Richelle. “He’s been interested in swamps lately and has been creating fiber murals. What’s special about his work is that he gathered leaves, branches, rocks, and objects that remind him of home.”
It’s befitting that the artist who coined the exhibition name Hey You! Land! has an equally delightful collection of photographs on display called The New Land and The Old Land.
“Andre [Paradis]’s collection of beautiful, crooked trees in Saskatchewan is dear to him,” explains Richelle. And because Andre values including his friends in his work, he incorporated a set of tree photos he captured at the Leighton Arts Centre, where the exhibition is hosted.
“Andre is passionate about making sure that everyone is represented,” says Richelle. “His previous photo series was meditative and focused on his own experience; the new series is about community.”
Empowering Opening Night
As the artists gathered at the Leighton Art Centre on opening night, Elder Robin Big Snake from Siksika Nation offered a blessing to commemorate their journey. The blessing provided solace and encouragement to the artists who are courageously sharing their talent, experiences, and vulnerabilities in a public art exhibition.
“When there’s an Elder involved, there’s a level of peace and wholeness that prevails,” explains Richelle. “Elder Robin shared that everyone has strengths and qualities that make them who they are, and that those qualities are important,” says Richelle. “It’s empowering to have an Elder acknowledge and celebrate you; every artist in attendance appreciated that.”
Hey You! Land! runs through October 29, 2023 at the Leighton Art Centre.