Category Archives: Art

Yoko Ono Makes You Do All The Work

Yoko Ono instructs gallery visitors to hammer a nail into a canvas to help create a piece of art
Here’s what the art piece looked like after I added my nail

We hammered nails, wrote messages, glued china, and tied wishes to trees. When we visited the Vancouver Art Gallery last week we saw an exhibit called The Instructions of Yoko Ono. And that’s exactly what we saw. Instructions. Essentially we read the instructions and followed them to create artwork. It was a unique way of experiencing art- art that required us to work and changed with each participant.

This installation was called My Mommy is Beautiful. Gallery visitors were instructed to write something about their Moms.

I followed Yoko Ono’s instructions and wrote a message for my mother.

In an artwork called Mend Piece you selected bits of broken china and put them together with glue and string. Then you placed your piece on long rows of shelves with the creations others had made.

This is my finished piece on the shelf where it was displayed near this poem by Yoko Ono.

At the installation titled Wish Tree, you were instructed to write a wish for someone you love on a tag and tie it to a tree. Here Dave ties our wishes together on the tree.

There were lots of other interesting participatory displays.

Dave climbed a ladder to look at himself in a mirror on the ceiling with a magnifying glass.

Here I select what I want to learn about the famous peace sit-in Yoko Ono and John Lennon staged in a Montreal hotel in 1969 by deciding which locker doors I will open. Each locker unit contained different pieces of information about the sit-in.

Here I put an Imagine Peace stamp on a map of Canada.

There were several exhibits we did not participate in.

Like this one where we were invited to put on a black sack and take off all of our clothes inside.

Or this one where we could take a photo of our eyes and write about a time we had been abused physically or emotionally.

You could play chess on a board where all the movers and all the squares were white

The Yoko Ono exhibit was unique because almost every piece on display was created by, or involved the viewer. I am not sure if it is my favourite kind of art but it was certainly interesting and engaging.

Other posts…………

A Bizarre Museum in Florence

Canmore’s Big Head

A Giant Baby and a Tiny Woman

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Filed under Art, Western Canada Travels

What’s That Big Head Doing in Downtown Canmore?

Yes, that is my husband Dave trying to stick his finger up the nose of a big statue of a head in downtown Canmore.

I had noticed the statue on a walk through Canmore the day before and was so curious about it. I asked Dave and my niece Olivia to return to take more photos. They were happy to oblige.

The head appears to be deep in thought and is partially buried in the ground. The sculpture was made in 2008 by Alberta artist, Alan Henderson.

He was commissioned by the town of Canmore for the project. Canmore is named after a place called Ceannmore in Scotland. In Gaelic Ceannmore means ‘big head.’

The sculpture weighs nine tons and was carved from blue granite with the assistance of Chinese craftspeople. The artist used the head of a friend as a model.

It looks like some graffiti artists once added additional images to the sculpture which were cleaned off.

Apparently in winter, the locals dress it up in a huge toque, in summer in giant sunglasses, and kids from the local high school have been known to put a mortarboard on its head on graduation night. The head has become a kind of signature art piece for the city.

My hometown of Steinbach has a giant car.

The town of Altona, Manitoba has a giant Van Gogh painting of sunflowers.

Canmore, British Columbia has a giant head.

Other posts………

A Head Trio

A Chair For You and Me

Cool Stuff Outside the Art Gallery

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Filed under Art, Western Canada Travels

The Gift Was A Gift

The Gift/Tuniigusiia by Goota Ashoona

The Gift a new sculpture by Inuit artist Goota Ashoona, was a gift from the Manitoba Teachers Society to the Winnipeg Art Gallery’s new Inuit Art Centre called Qaumajuq.

The teachers of our province help impart the gift of knowledge to young people and Goota Ashoona illustrates that idea of sharing knowledge in her beautiful piece of art.

On this side of the sculpture, you can see a mother teaching her daughter to do Inuit throat singing. The mother’s face has traditional tattoos and I love the way she rests her head against her daughter’s as she passes on the knowledge of an important Inuit art form.

The woman looking skyward on the sculpture is Sedna or Nuliajuk

Storytelling is another way of passing on knowledge and that is illustrated on the other side of the sculpture which features Sedna or Nuliajuk. Sedna is the main character in a traditional Inuit story about a girl who drowns while fleeing an unhappy marriage. She becomes a mermaid who is responsible for the creation of all the animals of the northern seas.

Artist Goota Ashoona with her sculpture The Gift/Tuniigusiia

Artist Goota Ashoona says in this video that it was her grandmother who told her the story of Sedna or Nuliajuk. It’s a story that has many different versions and I shared it literally a hundred times or more with groups of visitors during the eight years I gave tours at the Winnipeg Art Gallery.

Just check out all the marvellous details Goota Ashoona has included in her sculpture made from Verde Guatemala marble. Can you see the mermaid’s tail to the left? Goota Ashoona shows Sedna or Nuliajuk’s fingers prominently because in the story those fingers get cut off and become all the northern marine animals. You can also see her long flowing hair. In some versions of the story of Sedna, shamans dive down into the sea to comb Sedna’s tangled hair when they want to make her happy and ask her for a favour.

I love the way the face of the older woman can be seen on this side of the sculpture as well. For me at least it alludes to the fact that Goota Ashoona heard the story of Sedna or Nuliajuk from her grandmother.

Inside the Winnipeg Art Gallery, you can see an entire gallery with dozens of artistic representations of the Sedna or Nuliajuk story including this gorgeous 2009 sculpture by Goota Ashoona.

I took this photo of The Story of Nuliajuk by Goota Ashoona on one of my last working days at the Winnipeg Art Gallery before it closed due to the pandemic.

The dedication for The Gift says it is for the teachers all around us in the land and in our lives who reveal the truth, wisdom, and beauty that connects us all.

Don’t you just love that? I could write another whole blog post just about that gem of a statement.

Why not take a close look at the sculpture yourself? You can find it on the corner of St. Mary Avenue and Memorial Boulevard.

Other posts……….

Sedna is a Planet

Inuit Art at the Zoo

Inuit Art Isn’t Just Soapstone Carvings

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Filed under Art, Education, manitoba, winnipeg art gallery

Prying Hands

Look really carefully at the narrow window above the door on the Buhler Centre and you will see prying hands. The Buhler Centre is part of the University of Winnipeg campus and was named after John and Bonnie Buhler. They are business people who donated 4 million dollars towards the building’s construction.

Have you noticed as you walk down Portage Avenue in Winnipeg that there are now two hands above the sign for the Plug-In Institute of Contemporary Art in the Buhler Centre? Those manicured fingers are actually a piece of art by Walter Scott that was installed by the Plug-In Gallery this summer. Scott calls the piece Mary Ann’s Inquiry.

Mary Ann’s Inquiry by Walter Scott – photo by Luther Konadu

The artwork shows a woman’s hands trying to pry open a building with colonial ownership that is part of an established academic institution to make space for artists, marginalized people, and those who are curious and want to ask questions.

The red on the nails match the red in the letters Buhler Centre to show that those who want to challenge institutions to be more inclusive are also a part of them and as the upper hand shows, they also help to hold up the very institutions they are challenging.

Photo from the gift shop page of the Plug-In Gallery

I learned about Walter Scott from Laura a former student of mine. We were having lunch not long ago and she was carrying this provocative bag that featured an art piece of Scott’s called Your Opinion. The woman in the drawing is named Wendy. Wendy is a young artist who is the protagonist in a series of popular graphic novels created by Walter Scott that satirize the contemporary art world.

Walter Scott is an interdisciplinary Indigenous artist who creates comics, drawings, videos, performance art, and sculpture.

I asked Laura about Walter Scott and she pointed out that I might have noticed his hands on the Plug-In Gallery. At that point, I hadn’t, but the next time I was downtown I took note, and I took some photos. Thanks, Laura for bringing my attention to a thought-provoking addition to Winnipeg’s public art collection.

Other posts………..

Mural on the Hudson’s Bay Store Window Made By A 90-Year-Old Woman

A Different Kind of Table

Good-bye Pitaloosie

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Mural On the Hudson’s Bay Store Window Made By A 90-Year-Old Woman

If you have walked by the old Hudson’s Bay store in downtown Winnipeg recently you might have noticed this mural in one of the windows.

Yesterday and Today by Elisapee Ishulutaq

The original mural which is in the permanent collection of the Winnipeg Art Gallery was made with oil sticks by Elisapee Ishulutaq when she was 90 years old. For five days in 2014, Elisapee slid along the floor in her apron, sealskin boots, and knitted sweater with her wire-frame glasses perched on her nose to create a vibrant scene that records the history of her home community of Pangnirtung in Nunavut.

You can watch a video and see how Elisapee gets out of her wheelchair, kneels down on the floor, and fearlessly starts to draw marks with her oil sticks on a long piece of paper to make her mural.

Elisapee’s mural features things from the past like sleds, sealskin tents, and kids playing tug of war games with animal bones. She also includes things from the present like all-terrain vehicles, wooden buildings, and kids playing hockey.  

I took a photo of the full-length mural when it was on display at the Winnipeg Art Gallery in 2015

In the video, you can hear Elisapee describing in her native language what life was like in Pangnirtung. Her narration is interspersed with laughter and song.  

Elisapee Ishulutaq – photo from the Da Vinci art site

She laughs heartily as she talks about the games children played long ago in winter. She demonstrates how windows were made with seal skin intestine and describes the seal skin tents people lived in.

One side of her mural shows summer scenes and the other depicts the winter months in Pangnirtung. Elisapee wanted the old way of life in the north to be remembered by future generations and hoped that her art could do that. 

Elisapee Ishulutaq was a renowned artist, who was awarded the Order of Canada. She is known for her expressive, autobiographical images of daily life in Canada’s Arctic. She died in 2018.

Elisapee said that in this section of her mural the bright blue building was the Hudson’s Bay store in Pangnirtung. Now Elisapee’s mural is being displayed larger than life on another Hudson’s Bay store. I think that’s pretty neat!

Other posts………

Golfing At An Old Hudson’s Bay Outpost

Good-bye Pitaloosie


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A Giant Baby and A Tiny Woman

I have been thinking a lot about the cycle of life recently. In the last few weeks, an uncle of mine has passed away and so has an aunt of my husband Dave’s. During the past year, two new babies have been welcomed to the world in my extended family.

In 2015 I took photos of an exhibit at the Winnipeg Art Gallery that depicted the cycle of life in an incredibly graphic way.

It had two main pieces and was created by an Australian-born, London-based artist named Ron Mueck.

The first piece was an enormous sculpture called The Girl

The little girl had just been born and her umbilical cord was still attached. Blood remained on her wrinkled and folded skin. 

You could see the glisten of saliva on the baby’s lips, the wet mucus in her nose, and her tiny eyelashes. 

You needed to walk slowly all around the figure and think about it. Mueck said that while he spends lots of time making the outer surface of his sculptures of human beings it is really the life inside them he is trying to capture. It reminded me how after our older son was born my husband walked around the delivery room carrying him and talking to him. “I wonder what he is thinking,” he said to me. Mueck’s sculpture has that quizzical thinking look about it. 

Mueck has created other life-size sculptures of babies. He made the first after the birth of his child. Mueck reflects on the strangeness and assertiveness of infants and the way a new baby tends to totally dominate our lives. 

Mueck’s Old Woman in Bed was on display just a few steps away from The Girl.  This art piece shows a dying, vulnerable woman in her hospital bed. She was as tiny as Mueck’s baby was big. 

Artist Ron Mueck made the Old Woman in Bed after visiting his wife’s beloved grandmother in the hospital. 

The woman is curled in a fetal position, and her wrinkled skin, so like the wrinkled skin of the baby, links her clearly with the newborn girl nearby.  

The exhibit juxtapositioned the beginning and end of a woman’s life beautifully and in such a moving and compassionate way.

Other posts……………

A Dream Day At Work

The Pandemic Story Behind a 105 Year Old Photo

Books About Death For Children

The Circle of Life

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Filed under Art, Family

Good-Bye Pitaloosie

This is a self-portrait by Cape Dorset artist Pitaloosie Saila. Isn’t she incredibly lovely? The portrait shows the artist as a young woman.  Although in reality Pitaloosie’s face was not tattooed, she has portrayed herself with tattoos because she remembered her aunts having tattoos like this.  Pitaloosie has put her portrait on an ulu, a traditional Inuit woman’s knife.  Pitaloosie had a large personal collection of different kinds of ulus. 

Pitaloosie Saila

I was so very sad to learn of the death of Pitaloosi Saila last Saturday. She was the creator of some of my favorite pieces of art on display at the Winnipeg Art Gallery during the eight years I worked there. Pitaloosi was 79 when she died and had been contributing to the Cape Dorset print collection for over 60 years.

Pitaloosie Saila answers questions at the Winnipeg Art Gallery on October 28, 2017

I had the privilege of meeting Pitaloosi Saila in person in October of 2017 when she came to the city for the opening of an exhibit featuring 32 of her stunning prints curated by Susan Gustavison and Darlene Wight. The prints told the story of Pitaloosie’s life.

In this lithograph, we see four generations of Pitaloosie’s family.  On the far right is her great-grandmother chewing a seal skin to soften it.  In the middle is Pitaloosie’s grandmother with a more modern hairstyle and clothing.  On the far left is Pitaloosie’s mother.  She died when Pitaloosie was only two years old so the artist never really got to know her mother but she has dressed her in an even more modern way than the other two women. There is little Pitaloosie in the amauti in her mother’s parka.

After Pitaloosie’s mother died she was raised by her grandmother. In this print, she has shown her grandmother dancing a reel on one of the whaling ships that came into Cape Dorset.

Pitaloosie and Aqsatunnguaq – a watercolor by Pitaloosie Saila

There is a sad story behind this gorgeous watercolor of Pitaloosie and her sister. As a child Pitaloosie was sent south to hospitals for seven years because of a back injury and complications from tuberculosis.  While she was gone her dear sister Aqsatunnguaq died.  Pitaloosie didn’t find out till she returned home to Cape Dorset. Like many other Inuit children who were separated from their parents and taken to southern hospitals, Pitaloosie lost her Inituktuk language and couldn’t even talk to her family when she returned home.

Arctic Madonna by Pitaloosie Saila

Pitaloosie began doing artwork in the 1960s and in her lifetime produced close to 1,500 pieces. Her print above Arctic Madonna was featured on a UNICEF greeting card in 1983.

One of her art pieces Fisherman’s Dream was featured on a Canadian stamp.

Four Generations by Pitaloosie Saila

This is my very favorite piece of Pitaloosie’s. Three generations look forward and one looks back.

Pitaloosie’s art told the story of the past and provided a forward-looking vision for a younger generation. One of Pitaloosie’s granddaughters is also an artist.

I was very sorry to hear about the death of Pitaloosie Saila. We are so fortunate to have her beautiful artwork that gives us an intimate and personal look at the life of a remarkable Inuit woman and artist.

Note: Except for the stamp all the images in this post were ones I photographed during the Pitaloosie Saila exhibit at the Winnipeg Art Gallery in 2017

Other posts……….

What’s An Amauti?

Sedna is a Planet

Another Shameful Chapter in Canadian History

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Filed under Art, winnipeg art gallery

Art To Taste, Hear, Smell, See and Touch

We often think of art as just something we can see but sometimes we can also experience it with our other senses.


Animikiikaa by Scott Benesiinaabandan

During the exhibit, Insurgence-Resurgence at the Winnipeg Art Gallery visitors were invited to enter a dark room created by Anishinabe artist Scott Benesiinaabandan. When you stepped inside you heard this rhythmic sound like a heartbeat and then a woman started talking in a poetic and soothing voice in an Ojibway language. I liked to imagine the heartbeat belonged to a child in the womb and the woman talking was the child’s expectant mother soothing her unborn offspring.


Here I am at the Art Institute in Chicago helping myself to some candy from an art installation by Cuban artist Felix Gonzales Torres. The work actually has a very sombre theme. Gonzales Torres made it as a tribute to his partner who died of AIDS. The weight of the candy when the installation first opens is 175 pounds the healthy weight of the artist’s partner Ross who died of AIDS. Gonzales Torres is a Catholic and just like mass participants are invited to eat the body of Christ here visitors can take candy to participate in the sweetness of Ross’s life but they also diminish the pile until bit by bit it disappears just as Ross did when he finally died.


St. Cecilia by Giuseppe Puglia- 1630

Every other year the Winnipeg Art Gallery hosts an event called Art in Bloom. Floral artists are invited to create arrangements to compliment different works of art in the gallery. The whole gallery is full of beautiful flowers and you can also smell the blooms of course. There are unique scents for each painting depending on what kind of flowers have been chosen. Here sweet-smelling pink roses grace a painting of the patron saint of music Cecilia who has turned her head to speak to the cherub holding her music.


Ejjnda-Push by Tsema Igharas

Tsema Igharas is an Indigenous artist from the Tahltan First Nation.  Her work Ejjnda-Push is a stretched caribou hide on a wooden frame with an amplifying speaker behind it. The skin can be played like a large drum and that is exactly what art gallery visitors are invited to do- use their hands to create a beat on the skin of the drum. We had this piece on display at the Winnipeg Art Gallery in 2017 and our younger visitors especially enjoyed this tactile work.


Of course, the way we usually enjoy art is through our sense of sight. Here I am with Vincent Van Gogh’s iconic Starry Night at the MOMA in New York. The MOMA was one of the first galleries that didn’t forbid photos, but in fact, encouraged patrons to take pictures with the masterpieces in their gallery and post them on the gallery’s website.

There are times when visual art can be experienced with one of the other senses as well. I am excited to look for more examples once we can visit art galleries again.

Other posts……….

Art in Bloom

Chicago- Day 3

Visit to the MOMA

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Elisapee, Shelley and Oviloo

During the eight years, I worked at the Winnipeg Art Gallery I had the privilege of getting to know the work of so many talented and inspiring Indigenous female artists. Since this is Indigenous history month I thought I would showcase three of them each with a major work they created. I photographed all the artwork in this post at the Winnipeg Art Gallery.

Elisapee Ishulutaq has used oil sticks to record the history of the community of Pangnirtung in her colourful mural Yesterday and Today.

For five days in 2014, Elisapee slid along the floor in her apron, seal skin boots and knitted sweater, with her wire-frame glasses perched on her nose, creating a vibrant scene of life in her home community of Pangnirtung, Nunavut. You can see what life was like in Pangnirtung, generations ago, as well as today.

Elisapee is a renowned artist, who was awarded the Order of Canada. She is known for her expressive, autobiographical images of daily life in Canada’s Arctic. She died in 2018.

Shelley Niro made these huge woodcuts on woven paper in 2001 for a series she calls Resting With Warriors.

Shelley Niro’s art is very much influenced by the bead, birchbark and carving work she saw being created around her while growing up on the Mohawk Nation near Brantford Ontario. With the Resting With Warriors series, she wanted to give young girls an alternate image of Indigenous women, one not usually seen in the mass media.

In 2017 Shelley won the Governor General’s Award for excellence in visual art.

Oviloo in Hospital by Oviloo Tunille 2002

Over more than a decade Oviloo Tunnillie, an artist from Cape Dorset created a series of serpentinite sculptures to illustrate her experience of being sent to a sanatorium in Manitoba for two years when she contracted tuberculosis at age 5.

Oviloo in Bed by Oviloo Tunille

She was taken away on a ship and separated from her family. Her treatment at the hospital included periods of bed rest during which she was tied to her bed and she was sexually abused by a doctor.

Nurse with Crying Child by Oviloo Tunille- 2001

When Oviloo was finally returned home she felt like she hardly knew her family anymore. She had forgotten much of the Inuktitut language, was used to eating different foods and had learned new cultural ways.

Oviloo with her granddaughter photo by Jerry Riley

Although the experience of being taken to away to a TB hospital was not unique to Oviloo, she is the only Inuit artist to have referenced it directly in her art.

Oviloo is noted for defying convention and cataloguing the story of contemporary women in the North. She is one of only a few female Inuit carvers to gain international success. She died in 2014 of cancer.

Other Indigenous Female Artists.…….

Transferring the Real to the Unreal

And Mary You’ve Seen Hard Times

Four Grandmothers


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Paris/Ojibwa by Robert Houle – photographed at the Art Gallery of Ontario

During this time when the world has been dealing with a deadly virus, I have been reminded of an art installation I saw at the Art Gallery of Ontario in the summer of 2017 that illustrated the impact of a deadly virus on a group of Indigenous dancers.

Created in 2010 by the renowned Indigenous artist Robert Houle who is originally from Winnipeg, the work titled Paris/Ojibwa is a moving memorial to Ojibwa dancers who died while entertaining the French Court in 1845.

The story starts with American artist George Catlin who travelled extensively in the west painting hundreds of portraits of Indigenous people.  He decided to bring his ‘Indian Gallery’ to Europe and display it there. He thought he might attract more viewers for his exhibit if he brought along an Indigenous dance troupe organized by George Henry Maungwudaus an Ojibwa interpreter.

George Henry Maungwudaus the leader of the Indigenous dance troupe that went to Paris. His wife and three of his children were among those who died on the trip to Europe.

The troupe performed in London and at the royal court in Paris where King Louis Philipe presented the dancers with medals.  Unfortunately, six of the troupe caught smallpox in Europe. They died never to return to Canada

Robert Houle, Paris/Ojibwa (detail) image from an essay by Shirley Madill for the Art Canada Institute

Robert Houle has included the names of some of the dancers at the very top of the installation. He has shown the dancers as a Shaman, Warrior, Dancer and Healer respectively and they are seen looking out at the horizon of their home in Canada. Each horizon has a specific physical reference. They are views of the prairie from the Sandy Bay First Nations cemetery near Lake Manitoba. Artist Robert Houle is a member of the Sandy Bay First Nation.

Robert Houle, Paris/Ojibwa (detail) image from an essay by Shirley Madill for the Art Canada Institute

Underneath each portrait is an image of the smallpox virus that killed them.

Robert Houle has created the portraits on the walls of a reconstructed Parisian salon with a marble floor. There is a bowl of sage on a pedestal at the front of the salon and I could hear soft drum beats as I viewed the installation. 

According to an April CBC article Indigenous people make up 10% of Manitoba’s population but account for 70% of COVID-19 infections. It also states that American First Nations people are dying of COVID-19 at twice the rate of the white population.

Robert Houle’s artwork reminds us how the effects of colonization have impacted the health of Indigenous Canadians for nearly two centuries.

Other posts…….

Art That Makes You Feel Sick

Old Sun and Emily Carr

Locked Away

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Filed under Art, Canada, History