THIS MONTH’S FEATURE
Welcome! We hope you enjoy this months featured work that is coming out of the prairies.
JUNE / JULY / AUGUST 2021
Truth Telling & the Power of Art
Warning: This feature contains details and images of residential schools and student’s experiences there.
The stories about residential schools have long existed. Conversations about the abuse that occurred there and the effects of generational trauma are never easy. The Kamloops mass grave discovery has prompted responses across the nation as so many try to find ways to grieve and heal from the trauma and incredible loss experienced by so many as a result of residential schools.
Art is a very powerful way to express ones feelings when other methods fall short. In 2019, the Vancouver Art Gallery launched a new exhibition titled There is Truth Here: Creativity and Resilience in Children’s Art from Indian Residential and Day Schools. This show, curated by Andrea Walsh, was a tribute to the resiliency and knowledge of students. It was a way to educate those who knew little or nothing about residential schools and the experiences of those who attended. The pieces in this exhibit were made by children during their time in residential schools as a way to express their feelings and stay connected to who they were inside. It is amazing that these art works survived, some being stored in garbage bags for decades – and exist today; testament to the strength and truth they embody for all to see.
One artist who’s work is featured in this exhibit is a member of the Uchucklesaht First Nation and residential school survivor, Gina Laing. Her work along with others showed how, when making art, the children were allowed to be free to depict the culture of their home life. In an interview with CBC radio, Laing says ” ‘… I realized I could paint anything I wanted to…there were no repercussions for that, [but] when we were in classrooms, we had to follow orders, and if we didn’t, we were punished severely.’ ” Laing’s artwork is now helping us learn much more about residential school experiences. Curator Andrea Walsh responded to Gina Lang’s artwork saying: ” ‘That’s the power of art, that we can dwell on that moment in a child’s life where they were creative and they had that freedom to produce something that was in their mind and in their heart.’ ” Read the full interview here.
An article in The Tyee covers this exhibit as well – highlighting the work of Edith Kruger, other students, and Roxanne Charles’ response to the show. Read full article here.
Roxanne Charles from Semiahmoo First Nation was commissioned to provide a personal response to the exhibition. In this article, Charles explains that when people enter the show, they are flanked by two photographs of a boy and a girl who attended residential school. She explains this is an honour guard ” ‘… meant to honour the survivors and those who didn’t make it home.’ ” Charles created a piece made of castings of 176 hands, including one hand of her grandmother who attended St. Mary’s Residential School. Children’s hands are mixed with adults and elders. Charles says the hands are meant to be touched. The piece includes medicines like sage, sweet grass, tobacco and lavender. People can also make prayer ties from strips of fabric. These physical elements add to the depth and emotional weight of the exhibit. Charles adds ” ‘ I wanted people to have something that they can work or act on, because I think there’s gong to be a lot of uncomfortable feelings in the space.’ “
Following the discovery of the Kamloops mass grave in May of 2021, acknowledgements and memorials have emerged across the country. Winnipeg artist Katya AdomovFerguson has turned to art to help grieve as well as begin a conversation. She sifted soil around pairs of shoes on her driveway and repeated the process 215 times to honour each child found in B.C. The process of creating this artwork along with her own children was something this artist felt she had to go through ” ‘…to understand how families and communities must be feeling and to express [her] grief for them.’ ” AdomovFerguson’s interview and work are in a full CTV news story found here.
One hopes that what survivors, families, communities and all those who grieve can be left with is some healing through the truth telling of art; that positive change will finally come out of experiences that won’t be forgotten.
Standing Together to Protect Muskeg: ta-kistîthihtamahk ikwata-manâcihtâyahk wâpâstâskamikwa – Brandon White
It’s almost time to plant the garden! Many of us have planted seeds or are using this time to get our gardens ready. We may be adding potting soil or peat moss to seed pots and flower beds to make the soil more fluffy and help it retain water. If you are like me – you’ve likely got a bag of peat in the shed and haven’t stopped to consider where peat comes from or the role it plays in nature. This month’s feature is a mini doc by filmmaker Brandon White. White’s film takes a look at northern Saskatchewan’s peat bogs (muskeg) and the vital connection they have to the land and its people. The advocacy group, For Peat’s Sake, has been working hard to raise awareness around peat mining since 2020 and this film was made in response to their efforts. It artfully captures the opinions of many youth, elders, men and women affected by this proposed peat development project.
We watched this film during a presentation by artist Miriam Koerner at our April Prairie Rivers Reconciliation Committee meeting. I have permission from the filmmaker to share this work with you. Perhaps you’ll consider going peat-free with your gardening this season.
Wiigwaasabak: The Tree of Life – part of the CBC series Stories from the Land
Stories from the Land, inspired by Anishinaabe comedian Ryan McMahon’s hit podcast series, shows the connections Indigenous people have between land, culture and community. One of these stories is about a tree we see all the time on Treaty 6 territory. With warmer weather just around the corner, many of us will be heading outside to enjoy nature and the beauty of trees in Spring. When you encounter a birch tree – and you will – take a moment to think about how it has come to be so significant to Indigenous people across Canada. This short film Wiigwaasabak – The Tree of Life, depicts Anishinaabe women near Lake Superior sharing how the birch tree, from roots to leaves, has transformed their lives. By making beautiful, yet practical traditional crafts from birch bark together, these women are able to find healing and a deep sense of belonging.
Respecting nature and its many gifts is something the birch tree can remind all of us of as we welcome a change in season!
Home Cooked Music – a 9 minute documentary by Mike Maryniuk
In the words of Dene writer Richard Van Camp, good storytellers should offer hope, hilarity, inspiration, comfort and peace. I happened to hear him say this in a recent CBC radio interview the same day I stumbled upon Home Cooked Music, a short NFB documentary by Mike Maryniuk. This self-taught filmmaker from rural Manitoba uses hand-crafted animation, trippy effects along with old-timey looking footage to tell a story; a style that is a perfect complement to the whimsical, folksy creativity of his subject. Maryniuk captures the quirky character of inventor and craftsman, Lorne Collie as he pursues his unrelenting passion for creating string instruments from the most unlikely materials! Collie is a retired machinist who came out of a near-death experience with a fierce drive to turn ordinary items you might find in the shed into funny, one-of-a-kind instruments. Maryniuk’s documentary is an inspiring, comedic tale that celebrates non-conventional art and the diversity and creativity coming out of the prairies. It is a story that reminds us of the ability people have to overcome adversity, bring joy to life and look to the future with hope. Though this is a non-Indigenous work – it seems to fit Van Camp’s list of ingredients every good storyteller should include when cooking up a good tale. I think you’re going to enjoy this so go ahead and dig in!
Click Here To Watch
Kyle Charles: Artist, Illustrator, Storyteller
Celebrate Indigenous Storytelling Month with the work of Cree artist, Kyle Charles. I wanted to feature Kyle Charles this month because his work is so amazing and also because he is going to be the guest speaker at the next Prairie Rivers Reconciliation Committee meeting at the end of the month and we get to meet him! Virtually of course.
Kyle Charles, a Treaty 6 artist/illustrator, couldn’t believe it when he was approached by Marvel to draw the character of Dani Moonstar for their new anthology, Indigenous Voices. This issue features Indigenous characters and their adventures portrayed by Indigenous writers, illustrators and colourists.
Traditionally, Indigenous superheroes have been one-dimensional/stereotypical characters presented by non-indigenous artists. Having Charles drawing Moonstar is a chance for him to share the stories of his people; his own stories and his culture. With Moonstar, Charles used the powerful women in his life – his mom and his aunties – as his inspiration. Like them, this hero manages to handle difficult situations with humour and calm.
Charles is currently working on a project (coming out this Spring) involving stories of the Wheetago – a man eating spiritual being/zombie like creature – a tale he first heard from his Kokum, Cree for grandmother. Having First Nations artists like Charles telling their stories and sharing their culture through comics and main stream media is a step in the right direction.
How to Be at Home by Andrea Dorfman 4:55 min
This month’s feature does not specifically feature an Indigenous artist from the prairies – but it is about connecting communities and finding comfort in a shared experience. This short animation by Andrea Dorfman and poet Tanya Davis was one of the National Film Board’s most viewed works this year. At a time when so much in the world is about what separates, polarizes and divides people from one another, it is important to be reminded that we are part of a shared emotional experience of life during a pandemic. Dorfman’s piece is about what many of us are going through and what connects us all in this time of isolation. How to Be at Home is part of THE CURVE, a collection of NFB social distancing stories that bring us together. I hope you enjoy this piece as much as I do and take comfort knowing you are not alone.
Lake by Alexandra Lazarowich
Lake is a real time glimpse of two Métis women net fishing in Northern Alberta. Cree director Alexandra Lazarowich takes advantage of a particular style of documentary film, Cinéma Vérité, as a contemporary storytelling tool.
In a blog post by Kim Leonard, she explains that Cinéma Vérité or “Truth Cinema” is a style of documentary filmmaking we see often but are maybe not aware of. It began as a French film movement in the 1960’s that focused on filming real, everyday situations and avoiding anything artificial. Cinéma Vérité allowed independent filmmakers to record events as they happened; a way of storytelling that was free of deceptions. Prior to this movement, documentaries often had an educational tone with an overdubbed narrator to provide a certain lesson or point of view. The goal of Cinéma Vérité was to have the subjects speak for themselves without a narrator. This allowed viewers to become a part of events and form their own opinions about those in the film and their actions.
Cinéma Vérité can be an effective, artistic approach to Truth & Reconciliation. It is perhaps a good way to begin relearning history, sharing stories and understanding each other in an unbiased way. When you view Lazarowich’s piece, think about what you hear or see and what you may feel as these women fish. What do your senses tell you about these women? What is the real story being told?
Artist Lauren Crazybull
I was reading through Uppercase magazine the other day when I came across the work of Lauren Crazybull. Crazybull is an Edmonton based Blackfoot-Dene visual artist and is Alberta’s first provincial artist in residence. This 26 year old artist creates portraits of young, contemporary, Indigenous people in a way that was not often done in the past. In a Gallerieswest article, Agnieszka Matejko discusses how portraits of Indigenous subjects have historically been done to either depict faceless, wild attackers or the “noble savage.” Though we rarely see this type of work displayed today, the ideas and stereotypes that past works contained still exist. Crazybull’s activism is in her work as she reverses the colonial gaze by painting powerful, defiant, Indigenous people; portraits that confront the viewer, refusing to let them turn away. After seeing her work, one gets the feeling that like her portrait sitters, Lauren Crazybull isn’t about to disappear, but rather, she is just getting started.
ORANGE SHIRT DAY FEATURE
BROTHERS & SISTERS – a film by Kent Monkman
To mark Orange Shirt Day on September 30, 2020 – and create awareness about residential school experiences, the National Film Board has put together Souvenir – a series of 4 films dealing with Indigenous identity and representation. The cool thing about this series is that these films are made up of reworked material from the NFB archives. Sisters & Brothers, a 3 minute film by Kent Monkman, is an artful, hard-hitting comparison between the decimation of the bison in the 1890’s and the devastation of the residential school system on the Indigenous population.
Kent Monkman is an interdisciplinary Cree Artist with themes of colonization, sexuality and resilience running through his work. He is well known for turning famous or familiar works of art on their heads, recreating images in a way that reverses the viewers gaze and challenges non-Indigenous notions of the Indigenous experience or history. If the power of this piece appeals to you – take some time to check out more of Monkman’s work.
A film by Janine Windolf
I was drawn to this piece after spending some time camping with my family in Northern Saskatchewan this summer. Found on the National Film Board website, Janine Windolf’s film is a delightful glimpse of Lac LaRonge and the adventure the land holds for her two young boys that have been raised in the city. As this piece progresses, one can see that in a brief 11 minutes, Windolf goes much deeper, revealing a story of strength, wisdom and hope for the future. Click here to watch Stories Are In Our Bones.
Read more about Windolf’s inspiration in the Leader Post article.
-Nicole Thiessen, Director of Programming
Ruth Cuthand Exhibit
THE GALLERY/art placement inc. has put together a fantastic exhibit of Ruth Cuthand’s beaded work. Cuthand is an acclaimed Treaty 6 artist that has been hard at work since the pandemic began. Her intricately textured images of COVID-19 are so attractive in their unusual subject matter that they demand a second, more thoughtful look. Cuthand’s art conjures up thoughts around the complex, historical trading relationship between Indigenous communities and settlers. While the art of beading is rooted in tradition, Cuthand uses this medium/trade good as a way to invite viewers to think about the impact european settlements, trade relationships and viruses have had on First Nations communities in the past and present, with the Coronavirus.
– Nicole Thiessen, Director of Programming
Reserve 107 Film
In March 2020 when COVID forced us to close our doors, I spent some time watching films that I have been meaning to check out but never seemed to have the time. Prairie Rivers Reconciliation Committee (PRRC) and the Office of the Treaty Commissioner (OTC) sent out an email that had a ton of excellent reconciliation resources on it and the Reserve 107 Film was one of them. Initially, the Station Arts Centre was planning to have a screening of this film in our theatre, followed by a panel discussion. Artist Ray Keighley was to be a part of this discussion while also creating a mural based on this story. The screening and the mural project have been put on hold however, we welcome your thoughts on this film through the contact form below. These comments would indirectly shape the mural project if we are able to go ahead with it in the future. This is a great example of a reconciliation journey right here in our own backyard. Enjoy!
-Nicole Thiessen, Director of Programming