Category Archives: Art

He’s From Winnipeg

Kent Monkman – Photo by Samuel Engelking- from the Kent Monkman Studio Facebook page

I am so excited about the Kent Monkman exhibit Shame and Prejudice coming to the Winnipeg Art Gallery in just a few weeks. Kent Monkman lives in Toronto, has exhibited on three continents, and has an international reputation.

But did you know Kent Monkman grew up in Winnipeg and has many childhood connections with the Winnipeg Art Gallery? He’s always loved to draw and was sketching and painting horses before he was five.

Monkman started studying art at the Winnipeg Art Gallery when he was one of two kids chosen from his school to receive free Saturday morning classes at the WAG. In an interview with the Toronto Globe and Mail, he says, “I felt such a sense of belonging at the Winnipeg Art Gallery because I spent so much time there as a kid, not just in the art classes, but walking through the galleries.”

In a lecture at Queens University, the artist describes how he felt a certain kind of ownership of the Winnipeg Art Gallery space especially after seeing the work of Anishinaabe artist Robert Houle exhibited there.  In an article in the Winnipeg Free Press Monkman talks about how fascinated he was to see an indigenous man who was “a contemporary artist making modern paintings.”  He was inspired by Houle’s work. 

Kent Monkman was born in St. Mary’s Ontario. His father Everet Monkman was a member of Fisher River First Nation and his mother, a schoolteacher Rilla Unger, was Anglo-Irish.  They were both devout evangelical Christians who met through their church connection. An article in the Toronto Life magazine says the Monkman family first lived in Shamattawa in northern Manitoba as Christian missionaries. Kent’s mother found it very difficult. She couldn’t speak Cree and their living accommodations were rustic.                

The Scoop 2018 by Kent Monkman from the Kent Monkman Studio Facebook page

When Kent was in grade one his family moved to Winnipeg where his Dad did church work, drove a taxi, was a social worker and a bush pilot. He died in a plane crash when Kent was 21. His great grandmother Caroline Everett, who spoke only Cree,  lived with his family in Winnipeg till he was ten so he had a strong connection with his indigenous family history as a young child. His grandmother Elizabeth Monkman went to a residential school in Brandon, Manitoba but only talked about the suffering she had experienced there on her deathbed.

Kent’s family lived in River Heights where he went to Kelvin High School with kids from some of Winnipeg’s richest families. He was a popular student.  

Kent Monkman photo by Quin West from the Kent Monkman Studio Facebook Page

In an article in the Montreal Gazette Kent says some of his most vivid memories growing up in Winnipeg were visits he made to the Manitoba Museum. The way indigenous life was portrayed in the life-size dioramas was so very different from what he saw on the Main Street strip of Winnipeg where poverty and suffering and the effects of dislocation were so clearly evident. At the museum, he saw proud indigenous people before the arrival of colonists and on the streets of Winnipeg he saw indigenous people tumbling out of bars. “I had to reconcile the idealized, pre-contact, frozen-in-time image in the museum with this reality of what the colonial project did. I remember kids looking at me and saying, ‘What happened to your people? What’s going on?’ I didn’t know how to answer them.”

A teen examines the Kent Monkman work The Deluge . Photo from the Kent Monkman Studio Facebook page

During our 2017/2018  exhibit Insurgence/Resurgence at the Winnipeg Art Gallery, we had one of Kent Monkman’s works on display and it was a huge hit especially with the Winnipeg teenagers I took on tours.  I know they will be inspired by his upcoming exhibit Shame and Prejudice.  

Kent Monkman’s painting Death of the Female-2014 is set on the streets of Winnipeg- from the Kent Monkman Studio Facebook page

One thing I want to be sure the teenagers on my tours know is that Kent Monkman is from their home city and that Winnipeg, and in particular the Winnipeg Art Gallery, played a role in shaping his art and launching him on his path to phenomenal success in the art world. I hope Kent Monkman’s work at the Winnipeg Art Gallery inspires a whole new generation of Winnipeg young people the way Robert Houle’s work inspired Kent when he was a teenager. 

Other posts………..

Old Sun and Emily Carr

Ojibwa in Paris

Art That Makes You Sick

She Is Gripped By Terror

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Filed under Art, winnipeg art gallery

A Thirty Foot Pregnant Woman – Niimaamaa

I had driven my bicycle through this soaring art piece so many times but had never stopped to find out what it was all about or who had created it.  Last week as I cycled across Broadway and then biked the path up to the Forks along the river, I decided to take some time exploring it. The 30-foot high sculpture is called Niimaamaa (pronounced nee-ma-ma) and its creators say it is meant to be a figure of a pregnant woman representing Mother Earth and new beginnings.

A crowd gathers for the opening of Niimaamaa in November of 2018

There are seven cascading strands of hair on one side of the piece representing the seven sacred teachings of love, respect, humility, courage, wisdom, truth and honesty.  The figure gazes up at the sky and out onto the nearby river.  Niimaamaa means My Mother and is a word recognized by Cree, Ojibwe and Metis speakers.

I spent a long time looking at Niimaamaa trying to understand the way the river waters of the Red and Assiniboine are represented in the art piece as well as the seven-sister constellations also know as The Pleiades. The copper dress the pregnant figure is wearing is a symbol of prosperity and strength.

You can see your reflection in Niimaamaa

The highly polished metal invites viewers to see themselves reflected in the sculpture as a reminder of our responsibility to protect Mother Earth. 

Val Vint, K.C. Adams and Jaimie Isaac at the opening of Niimaamaa

When I read the sign at the site I discovered that the creators of the piece were Val Vint, K.C. Adams and Jaimie Isaac. Jaimie is the Curator of Indigenous and Contemporary Art at the Winnipeg Art Gallery where I work. An amazing exhibit Jaimie curated along with Julie Nagam called Insurgence/Resurgence was on show at the WAG for seven months in 2017 and 2018.  Julie also provided curatorial support for the Niimaamaa project. 

We have frequently had K.C. Adamswork on display at the WAG. You may know K.C.  best from her series Perceptions. These duo portraits were seen all over Winnipeg in 2015. K.C. took stereotypical and racist references for indigenous people and turned them on their ear by showing accomplished and successful members of the First Nation community. 

I was excited to learn that K.C. Adams, Jaimie Issac and Val Vint will each have other works of public art on display in and around The Forks in the future.  These pieces will be completed and opened in 2020 and 2021. I look forward to seeing them too. 


Filed under Art, Winnipeg

I’ve Got Wings

When we were in Saskatoon recently my seven year old grandson posed in a set of wings at the Berry Barn, a local orchard, eatery and family entertainment site.  Then he asked if he could take a photo of me in the wings and I happily agreed.

I wanted to know more about the wings and who had made them so I did a little research. I discovered they had been built by a man named Loch Willy, an indigenous consultant in the oil and gas sector who does woodworking as a hobby.  Willy is a single dad and he got the idea to build the wings from his thirteen year old daughter. In an interview with the CBC he said, “when your kid believes in something, you’re going to explore it and see where it goes.”

He has made six pairs of the wings which are located at different spots in Saskatoon. He says his goal for the project is just to make people smile and that seems to be happening. His instagram account @wingsofyxe and his Facebook page has received many photos, personal messages and thank yous from people who have happily posed in the wings. Willy spends about 50 hours building each pair of wings and pays for the costs himself. He moves them from place to place in Saskatoon so more people get to see them. 

Willy’s Pride Wings on temporary display at Saskatoon’s Western Development Museum- Photo from his public Instagram account

Willy says although the response to his wings has been extremely positive one day he discovered his set of Pride wings which he had decorated in rainbow colors and set up at the Saskatoon Farmers Market had been painted over in red by vandals. He stayed up half the night fixing them for the next day.  Rather than be negative about the experience Willy says it shows that art can send an important message. He used the vandalism as a teachable moment with his daughter.

He says he’s become much better at woodworking while making the wings and he likes to think he’s showing his daughter that it is good to push yourself artistically and not just stay in your comfort zone. He says the project has strengthened his bond with his daughter. 

I had a fun time with my grandson trying out Loch Willy’s wings.  They made us both smile and that’s exactly what the artist hoped would happen. 

Other posts………

A 91 Year Old Inspiration

A Unique Discovery Along the Banks of the South Saskatchewan

Beauty in Ordinary Things


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Are They Star Maps?

When I show these works of art by Jitish Kallat to kids at the Winnipeg Art Gallery they always think they must be star maps. The children are quite surprised when I tell them they are really raindrop maps or designs. The artist Jitish Kallat calls them Rain Studies. He makes them during the monsoon season in Mumbai, India.

Kallat uses watercolor pencils to make dark circles on woven paper.  Then during rain showers he steps outside and holds up the paper to the sky, allowing rain to fall on it for a certain number of breath cycles.  A breath cycle is breathing in and then out.  The raindrops leave an imprint on the dark circle and he sprays it to preserve it and then wipes the paper dry. In these three pieces, you can see how the length of time Kallat remains outside makes a difference in the designs.  Kallat has noted the number of breath cycles he held each circle up to the rain. The first one was for two breath cycles, the second for four and the third for seven.  Kallat uses a BC abbreviation and he pencils in the number of breath cycles by each dark circle.  He also records the time and date of each rain study. During some of the rain studies, it must have been raining quite hard and in others, quite lightly. The images do look very starlike, almost like astronomical charts. Kallat says in a New York Times interview that nature makes the artwork.  He doesn’t.  

Kallat’s Rain Studies are part of the current Vision Exchange exhibit at the Winnipeg Art Gallery. It closes in just a couple of weeks so if you haven’t seen it already you want to be sure to go before summer ends.  

Other posts about the Vision Exchange exhibit……..

Warli Art

Don’t Forget About Us

Wrestling Farmers

Carpet Conversation

Sports Equipment and Salt

Hyphenated Lives


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Filed under Art, India, winnipeg art gallery

Warli Art- Kids Love It and You Will Too!

Gauri Gill is a photographer whose work is currently on display at the Winnipeg Art Gallery in their Vision Exchange exhibit.

In 2013 Gill visited the community of Ganjad in the north-western part of India. She was doing art with the school children there. An artist in Ganjad named Rajesh Vangad told Gauri Gill about traditional Warli painting, an art form that may have started more than 5000 years ago. The paintings were traditionally done only with white pigment made by grinding rice into a powder and mixing it with water. The women of the tribe created the artwork on the walls of their adobe houses. The paintings showed the social life and the daily routines of the Warli tribe. Warli art uses mainly circles, triangles, and squares.

After learning about Warli art from Rajesh Vangad, Gauri Gill decided to photograph him at different places in the village and invite him to draw Warli art on her photos.  Here Rajesh stands in front of the community school. His Warli art covers the photo.

A closer look at the Warli drawings Rajesh Vangad did reveal that he depicted children in the classroom and on the grounds of the school participating in all kinds of activities.  

Children writing the alphabet

Children in the science lab

Children on computers

Children doing math

Children on swings

Children having lunch

The school-age visitors I take on tours of the Winnipeg Art Gallery love looking for all these different scenes in the artwork. I have included only a few of the dozens of small scenes in the piece entitled School from Gill and Vangad’s  The Flight series.  

I always invite the children to use the Warli technique to make drawings of their own depicting themselves doing something they enjoy. Their artwork is simply delightful.

This girl drew herself painting a picture

Here another WAG visitor showed himself playing basketball

This girl loves golf

This one loves ballet

And here is a soccer player

Warli art is for everyone and the children love its simplicity and the ease with which they can create portraits with white chalk on black construction paper. 

There are several other pieces by Rajesh Vangad and Gauri Gill on display in the Vision Exchange Exhibit at the Winnipeg Art Gallery. Why not come and see them and then try making some Warli art of your own?  

Other posts……….

Don’t Forget About Us

Carpet Conversation

Sports Equipment and Salt


Filed under Art, India, winnipeg art gallery

Half Empty or Half Full?

Is the glass half empty or half full? That’s the classic question posed by a sculpture in the reading garden at Winnipeg’s Millenium Library. It’s a giant beaker, like the sort you’d find in a science lab.  Created by architect Bill Pechet of Vancouver the sculpture is made from 22,000 kilograms of steel. It is called emptyful. Pechet has his own interpretation of the artwork something to do with the empty boundless spaces of the prairies around Winnipeg and the richness and fullness of our province’s seasons, people and heritage. I like to think emptyful is in the shape of a beaker because life is really just one big experiment and we are never sure what is going to happen.

The sculpture also makes me think about why some people tend to be optimistic looking at life through rosy lenses with a glass half full kind of perspective, while others always think first about what could go wrong, rather than what could right. They have a glass half empty approach to life. 
Winston Churchill once mused For myself I am an optimist – it does not seem to be much use being anything else. It reminds me of something Democratic candidate for American President Elizabeth Warren said in a recent debate when she chided a fellow candidate asking him why in the world he would run for office if he wasn’t optimistic that positive changes could be made.  

I think I’m a glass-half-full kind of person most of the time, but not always and not in all areas of my life.  I do know that being optimistic is far better for both my mental and physical health.

I wonder if we inherit optimism?  I suspect that while biology and nurture can influence how optimistic we are, life events and experiences can also alter our degree of optimism. 

Charles Carver of the University of Miami suggests it is best to have a balance of optimism and pessimism if we want to have safe and happy lives. You need to have a certain amount of optimism in order to make decisions about things like marriage, parenthood, travel or a career change.  Optimism can help us keep going even when our lives are tough. A little pessimism though can help us assess situations and choices more realistically and can inspire us to try to fill the half empty glass by taking actions that will improve our lives or the life of society.

On a CBC Ideas program, a panel discussion participant talked about the importance of cultivating optimism for the sake of our children and grandchildren. Our optimism will encourage our kids to have hope for the future and confidence in their ability to achieve things even if they don’t succeed right away. Cultivating an optomistic next generation is essential to the preservation of society and culture. Just look at Greta Thunberg the sixteen year old girl from Sweden whose campaign to save the environment has already garnered her a nomination for a Nobel Peace Prize. 

Are you a glass half empty or glass half full kind of person? 

Other posts………

600 Million Moments

Must We Live in Fear? 

An Attitude of Gratitude


Filed under Art, Reflections, Winnipeg

So Tiny!

Bears by Lucie Immingnaq Qayaqsaaq -1971-whalebone and ivory

“Oooooo!  They are so tiny!”  I was taking a group of kids through a new exhibit at the Winnipeg Art Gallery called Small Worlds.  It features miniature Inuit carvings.  “How can anyone make something so small?” one of the children asked me.  “I can’t even imagine how they do it!” 

It is hard to imagine how the intricate pieces in Small Worlds were carved. That’s part of what makes the new exhibit curated by the Winnipeg Art Gallery’s assistant curator of Inuit art, Jocelyn Piirainen so fascinating and intriguing.  

Bear Hunt– unidentified artist- 1976- bone and ivory

The exhibit has nearly a hundred pieces created by Nunavut artists between 1950 and 1970. The pieces were carved to sell or trade and some were made to bring good fortune to hunters.  

Birds by Sabina Qunqnirq Anaittuq -1969- ivory and jaw bone

The miniatures have been crafted from all kinds of different materials- antler, ivory, stone, musk ox horn, whalebone, walrus tusk, sinew, seal skin, caribou skin, and wood.  In some cases, the form of the material itself has inspired the artist. 

Dancing Walrus by Alooloo Inutiq- 1980- ivory and whalebone

Some of the miniature artworks make you laugh, others tell a dramatic story and they all make you marvel at the artists’ patience. What steadiness of hand must have been required to create these tiny wonders! 

Man Standing Over Swimming Polar Bear by Leah Aarlu Makittuq -1960-69- ivory and shoe polish

Small Worlds just opened on July 20.  It is simply fascinating and not to be missed!

Snowmobile by Simon Niaqunnuaq- 1986- stone and bone

Other posts…………….

A Tiny Church

Fascinating Conversation in a Tiny Wine Shop in Lisbon

Something Tiny Can Make All the Difference


Filed under Art, winnipeg art gallery