At the beginning of each tour we give at the Winnipeg Art Gallery we provide this welcome.
” We acknowledge the Winnipeg Art Gallery in located on Treaty One land, the traditional territory of the Anishinaabe, Cree, Dene, Dakota and Oji-Cree Nations and the homeland of the Métis.”
Treaty One by artist Robert Houle
At the beginning of November I gave a drop- in guided tour to about twenty five gallery visitors and after the tour was over one woman stayed back to ask me a question. She was from a small rural community some distance from Winnipeg. “I was just wondering,” she said, “why you made the statement you did at the beginning of the tour.”
The Delegate- Portage and Main by indigenous artist Jeffrey M. Thomas
I said that kind of acknowledgement was now common place at many Winnipeg venues. I told her I’d heard similar statements before concerts at the Centennial Concert Hall, at Winnipeg Jets games at the MTS Centre, at plays at the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre, before morning announcements at public schools I visit and that in my church such an acknowledgment was either announced or printed in our church bulletin each week. She seemed surprised to hear this.
Treaty Map of Canada
I told the woman indigenous people had lived on the land where the art gallery stands for thousands of years, long before settlers from other parts of the world came to Canada. I explained the importance of respecting that and recognizing that although treaties regarding land use were negotiated with indigenous groups their understanding and the settlers’ understanding of those treaties was very different. I said acknowledging the original inhabitants of the land was a way to work towards a more respectful relationship with indigenous Canadians and to actively pursue a path of reconciliation.
Treaty medal on display at the Glenbow Museum
The woman thanked me for my explanation. She said she had learned something new. I had too because I’d really had to think about how I could best answer her question. And maybe that’s exactly why we acknowledge our presence on Treaty One land before every tour at the Winnipeg Art Gallery………… because it makes us all take a moment and think about something really important.
Gone But Not Forgotten
Ojibwa in Paris
Build Your Own
“The room is dark and in the middle are three walls in a triangle, painted black and covered in foam. Stepping in and standing in the centre of the triangle you’re immediately surrounded by a loud rhythmic sound, like a heartbeat or the rush of blood through veins. Then the voice of a woman speaks Anishinaabemowin an Ojibway language. It’s both beautiful and overwhelming.”
That’s the way CBC personality Rosana Deerchild who hosts the popular radio show Unreserved describes a piece of sound art in the Insurgence/Resurgence exhibit at the Winnipeg Art Gallery. She calls Scott Benesiinaabandan’s work a language womb.
I like to use that description too when I lead gallery visitors into the dark interior of the exhibit. I invite them to imagine they are in a womb listening to a mother’s heart beating, her blood rushing and her soothing voice almost like a lullaby telling her baby the story of her family and her people. Kids especially like being inside Scott Benesiinaabandan’s untitled art installation. It is just a little bit scary at first because it is dark and so they are excited. Then their eyes adjust to the darkness. They start listening to the woman’s soothing voice and are lulled by the rhythmic ‘heart beats’ in the background. Invariably they grow comfortable, quiet and calm and don’t want to leave the exhibit.
Scott Benesiinaabandan is a University of Winnipeg graduate and an emerging Anishinabe artist based in Montreal. His piece in the current Insurgence/Resurgence exhibit at the Winnipeg Art Gallery is one of my favorites.
Zip Ties and The Three Little Pigs
This Looks Familiar
You can still come to Books and Brushes. I am leading the book clubs at the Winnipeg Art Gallery this month. Since McNally Robinson no longer has copies of the book we will discuss Treasure Palaces: Great Writers Visit Great Museums and Winnipeg library copies are also all out, I’d suggest you read the two essays that will be the main focus of our discussion online and come and join us anyway! We’d love to have you. Here are the links to the two essays.
You can register for Books and Brushes at firstname.lastname@example.org
My first post about the book club is here
I am leading the book club sessions at the Winnipeg Art Gallery in November and this is your invitation to join me! Books and Brushes is a new venture. It’s designed for people who love books or love art or love both. The book we will discuss on on Tuesday November 21 from 11:30 am to 1 pm. and again on Friday November 24 from 7:30-9 pm is a perfect fit for Books and Brushes because it contains short essays by famous authors who describe their favorite art gallery or museum in the world. The book is called Treasure Palaces: Great Writers Visit Great Museums. It is edited by Maggie Fergusson. McNally Robinson book store in the Grant Park Mall has stocked up on copies and they are available in their art writing section. The nice thing about a book of essays is you can read them one at a time whenever you have a few minutes and even if you don’t read them all you can still come and enjoy talking about the ones you have read with the other book club attendees. We will look at some of the artwork mentioned by the various essay writers and then we’ll go out into the galleries at the WAG. I am excited about the ways I think we will be able to make connections between the artwork referred to in the book and the artwork in our current exhibits.
You have to sign up to attend Books and Brushes and you can do so by e-mailing email@example.com
I’d love to see you there!
Art Tours Inspired by Books- What a Great Idea!
A Bottomless Vortex of Books
Is It Art?
“She is gripped by terror!” A teenager on a tour I was leading at the Winnipeg Art Gallery made that comment as we looked at this ink drawing on mineral paper by Heather Campbell called Methylmercury.
The work shows the sea goddess Nuliajuk more commonly known as Sedna. All the creatures who live in the sea were created from Nuliajuk’s fingers after a rather horrifying episode where her father cuts her fingers off. Heather says the goddess Nuliajuk is a symbol of female power in Inuit culture.
In Methylmercury Heather wants to show the impact of a hydroelectric dam currently under construction in Muskrat Falls Labrador. A Harvard study concluded that vegetation and topsoil must first be removed from the area the dam will flood. Otherwise dangerous levels of methylmercury will be released contaminating the traditional food supply for Inuit communities downstream. CBC reported the methylmercury will create the highest risk for people in Heather’s hometown of Rigolet because people there eat the most wildlife, birds and fish. The black mass at the top of Methylmercury is filled with death symbols and a hand reaches out from it to grab Nuliajuk’s neck and force the poisonous substance down her throat. This is similar to what will happen to people who eat fish and animals contaminated with methylmercury. The look on Nuliajuk’s face is what caused the young man on my tour to comment so insightfully, “She is gripped by terror.”
Heather says the red tape binding Nuliajuk’s wrists alludes to the ongoing violence faced by indigenous women and the current inquiry about that issue underway in Canada.
Heather put tattoos on Nuliajuk because traditional Inuit tattoos are enjoying a resurgence as symbols of beauty, strength, family, community and even a form of protest.
Heather’s thought provoking work is one of the art pieces we will be discussing when I lead the Winnipeg Art Gallery’s Books and Brushes Book Club in November. You can read more about that here.
Inuit Art At The Zoo
Cut in Stone
Transferring the Real to the Unreal
She’s lucky in love!
Four Grandmothers by Dee Barsy
One of my favorite pieces in the Insurgence/Resurgence exhibit currently on view at the Winnipeg Art Gallery is Four Grandmothers by a young Winnipeg artist named Dee Barsy. Dee is originally from the Skownan First Nation in Treaty 2 territory on Waterhen Lake. She was adopted as a baby and so she has four grandmothers, two biological and two adoptive. In her artwork Dee has depicted all four grandmothers. Dee paints each one in a unique way to show their diversity but Four Grandmothers also illustrates the interconnected relationship between all her grandmothers and herself.
Detail from Four Grandmothers
In 2016 Dee met her maternal birth grandmother for the first time. In an interview with the Winnipeg Free Press Dee says “When I met her, it was hugs and, ‘I love you.’ I wasn’t expecting that.” Dee learned her grandmother had visited her in the hospital when she was a baby and had spoken to her in her native language. She marvels that her birth grandmother has remembered her for thirty years and has always loved her even though she wasn’t physically present with her granddaughter.
Detail from Four Grandmothers by Dee Barsy
Dee’s paternal adopted grandmother passed away on Mothers Day this year. Dee reflects on the courage her grandmother showed in the last weeks of her life. Looking at Dee’s painting you realize she has learned things from each of her grandmothers. Creating her artwork has made Dee contemplate grief and loss and reunification and love. She says when she thinks about her adoptive and biological grandmothers she realizes “how I’m so lucky to have so much love in my life. ”
With three of my grandmothers at my wedding
I always think of myself as having four grandmothers too because when I got married I inherited two more who became very special to me. Looking at Dee’s painting makes me think about each of my four grandmothers and what was unique about them and how they have influenced my life.
On a tour of Insurgence/Resurgence with eight year olds I invited them to use felt shapes to create portraits of people they loved in Dee’s style. They did a beautiful job and it was heartwarming to hear them each describe their artwork and tell me about family members with whom they share the same kind of love Dee shares with her grandmothers.
Zip Ties and The Three Little Pigs
Gone But Not Forgotten
This Looks Familiar
“Part of the …inspiration for the work was the The Three Little Pigs fable.” Tiffany Shaw Collinge is talking about her piece Trap Line Cabin currently on display as part of the Insurgence/Resurgence exhibition at the Winnipeg Art Gallery. Tiffany wondered which of the trap line cabins she constructed was the strongest and might survive the harsh Canadian weather much like the brick house survived the huffing and puffing of the wolf in the Three Little Pigs story.
Tiffany’s three dimensional houses replicate the frame of a cabin her great grandfather Jean Paulin built on his trap line near Ft. McMurray Alberta. A trap line is a route trappers map out for themselves and use season after season. They place traps all along the route to snare fur bearing animals. Trappers move along the route repeatedly during the winter to check the traps. Since trapline routes can take several days to walk shelters need to be erected along the way for night stays. These are called trap line cabins.
Making the trap line cabins was part of Tiffany’s process of reclaiming her Metis heritage. Three of them were displayed at the 2012 Venice Biennale as part of a larger work called Migrating Landscapes created by a Canadian team of artists.
Tiffany who has studied art and architecture at universities in Edmonton, Victoria, Halifax and Los Angeles says she made two of the cabins out of mirrors and decorated them with floral patterns created by her great grandmother Maggie Paulin. Her great grandmother used the floral patterns on the mocassins she made. The crocheted cabin pays tribute to Tiffany’s mother, aunts and grandmother who taught her how to sew and knit and crochet. The deer hide used in another cabin comes from her family home in Fort McMurray Alberta and the birch bark to make another cabin came from an area near Edmonton sacred to indigenous people.
That leaves the cabin made from zip ties. Tiffany doesn’t give a definitive reason for making a cabin from zip ties except to suggest that perhaps they introduce a more modern technological element into the cabin display.
Last week I was giving a tour to a group of grade nines that included several students from indigenous backgrounds. I explained Tiffany’s reasons for choosing the other cabin materials but said I couldn’t quite understand why she had chosen zip ties for one of the trap line cabins.
“That’s easy,” said one of the boys on my tour. “Zip ties can be used for trapping animals.” He then proceeded to describe how to construct a snare from zip ties that could be used for catching small prey. Sure enough when I got home I searched online and found a survival website that suggested creating an animal snare out of zip ties and even a video of how to catch a small animal in a zip tie trap.
I don’t know whether Tiffany was thinking of zip tie snares when she made the trap line cabin out of zip ties but the idea certainly added another dimension to my understanding of the artwork. The visitors I tour at the Winnipeg Art Gallery never fail to give me new ideas about the art we explore together as they share their own personal connections and insights. It is one of the things that makes it so interesting to be a tour guide.
Gone But Not Forgotten