The Apprentice program was an extension of the Junior Curator program, with an emphasis on youth being mentored and guided through the worlds of art and history. Sakahàn educator Jaime Koebel played the role of mentor to four apprentices, who wrote about the Our Ways, Our Stories workshops and talks, and their personal responses to the artworks in the Sakahàn: International Indigenous Art exhibition. Sakahàn Apprentices:
I was born in Kingston, Ontario, but I have lived most of my life with my mom in Winnipeg, Manitoba. When I was 18-years-old, I moved to Ontario to live with my dad. My background is Ojibwa from Northern Ontario. My grandmother on my dad’s side was an Ojibwa who lost her status when she married my grandfather (an Irishman).
I have a strong passion for the arts and photography. I like taking pictures of nature and animals when I go places and I’ve taken a photography course at Algonquin College to enhance my camera skills. In my free time, I enjoy blogging about music, watching movies and reading books (especially mystery books).
Inuit stencilling with Heather Campbell
Inuit artist and curator Heather Campbell was a guest at the National Gallery of Canada and she hosted a stencilling workshop on 6 July, and gave a talk about her community on 7 July. Ms. Campbell taught us about Inuit stencilling at her workshop; at her talk, she went more in-depth about her Inuit background.
Quite a few people turned out to the workshop, including Aboriginal youth and tourists from Europe. Ms. Campbell introduced herself and talked about her Inuit background. She brought stencils with her and allowed everyone to paint and draw with them. Next, she showed us how to make our own stencils and designs. The participants then made their own stencils and painted or drew with them. It was a very simple and peaceful workshop. Everyone enjoyed making their own designs and bringing them to life on paper.
At her talk, Ms. Campbell talked about the place where she grew up, a small Inuit community in Quebec, which embraced traditional Inuit ways such as fishing and hunting, without many modern technologies. The artist addressed how a regulation on fishing affected her community; it did not allow them to maintain their traditional lifestyle and many community members had to move away from home. Ms. Campbell also presented Inuit tattooing and clothing and what it meant to her people. Her presentation was very informative for listeners who did not know much about Inuit culture. It also showed the diversity among Inuit people; how different groups do not have the same traditions. Everyone learned something new and gained a good understanding of Inuit cultures, making it a beneficial two days with Ms. Campbell.
Beading Métis symbol with Karen Fleming
On 13 July, Karen Fleming hosted a workshop on beading at the National Gallery of Canada. Ms. Fleming introduced herself and talked about her Inuk and European backgrounds. Although she is not Métis, she learned about the Métis infinity symbol and told everyone about it as she demonstrated how to make it. The infinity part of the symbol is white and the rest of it is red or blue in a rectangle form. It is meant to symbolize the mixing of European and First Nations people from the western prairie-provinces, which is the heritage of the Métis people.
The participants began to make their own infinity symbol, choosing between blue and red as options for their colours. Ms. Fleming provided the supplies and gave assistance to those who required it. It was a quiet and peaceful class, as is the nature of beading, and even though it was a small group, everyone could share in the experience, which was enjoyable. At the end of the workshop, the participants had completed their Métis symbols and everyone was quite proud of them. It was an interesting class since most of the participants were first-time beaders, and the infinity symbol is a good and easy way to start beading. Everyone enjoyed the workshop and felt they had learned something.
Beading cardholders with Christi Belcourt
On 20 and 21 July, we welcomed Christi Belcourt to the National Gallery of Canada. She hosted a workshop about beading a cardholder, and a talk about her Métis cultural background and the inspiration for her artwork. We had a full group for the event, with no seats left unoccupied. Ms. Belcourt started off her beading workshop by introducing herself as being a Sakahàn artist of Métis heritage. Next, she showed the participants an example of the cardholders that they would bead in the workshop.
The participants then received paper to draw out the designs to bead on their cardholders. Next, they received rectangles of fabric to bead their designs on while Ms. Belcourt helped out with any problems that arose. After beading, everyone got to combine their beaded rectangle with another rectangle to create their cardholder. It was another relaxing beading workshop and everyone was satisfied with what they created by the end of it.
Ms. Belcourt’s talk on the 21 July began with her talking about her Métis background, family history and how it has inspired her artwork among many other things. Next, she talked about Aboriginal issues in Canada, and how they have been a big inspiration to a lot of her art. She talked about political issues as well, and how they affect Aboriginal Peoples. After talking about her art, she next told the listeners about “Walking with our Sisters,” a project that she started that commemorates the over 600 missing and murdered Aboriginal women in Canada. The project was to collect moccasin vamps (the tops of moccasins) for the recorded 600 missing and murdered Indigenous women in Canada, but then word of the project spread around the world. In the end, an amazing 1700 vamps from around the world were collected for the project. ”Walking with our Sisters” will now be displayed in art galleries and community centres in Canada starting with Edmonton, Alberta in October of 2013. More information about the project is available at www.walkingwithoursisters.ca.
It was an excellent weekend, thanks to Ms. Belcourt! Her workshop was very peaceful and satisfying and her talk was emotional, inspiring and moving. She is an excellent speaker and host and allowed everyone to take a lot away from the weekend’s activities.
Silk screening with Robert Friday
On Saturday 27 July, Robert Friday, an Ojibwe artist, hosted a silk-screening workshop at the National Gallery of Canada. Mr. Friday introduced himself, and then told us about a memory from his childhood: a story about his grandfather, a fur trader who traded beaver pelts. This story was very interesting and different from the ways the other artists in the workshop and in the talk series had introduced themselves. Mr. Friday took everyone to the Gallery Bookstore to look around and get ideas for a design to silkscreen onto a t-shirt. Participants worked out their designs first on a blank piece of paper, and then drew their final designs on a special piece of adhesive paper. They cut around the design, leaving holes in the paper for the silkscreen ink to go through and stuck the cut paper onto a screen made of silky fabric stretched around a frame. Everyone silkscreened their designs onto plain white t-shirts. The process involved taking printing ink on a squeegee and rubbing the squeegee over the design paper so that it went through the design holes onto the fabric. The shirts were then taken home or left to dry overnight.
Mr. Friday was a very friendly and helpful presenter. All the participants were given a free pass to the Sakahàn: International Indigenous Art exhibition for after the workshop. Everyone got to make a t-shirt for free, which is not something you get to do very often. It was a different workshop, in a good way, and the participants all enjoyed themselves greatly.
Birchbark biting with Simon Brascoupé
On 17 August, Simon Brascoupé, an Algonquin artist, hosted a workshop at the National Gallery of Canada on birchbark biting, a traditional Aboriginal art that not many people do any more.
Mr. Brascoupé did not have to introduce himself at the beginning since everyone who showed up already knew him from his work in the community. He showed the participants a very informative slide show about the technique of birchbark biting. It showed the bark in its natural state and Aboriginal people biting it to make the artworks. He then gave out pieces of birchbark and showed participants how to bite it to make artistic designs and forms appear on its surface. After that, he brought out paper and stencils of birds for the participants to paint in. It was a quiet and peaceful workshop and everyone got to make a lot of art. The participants also had the chance to learn an art form that is near extinction. We will be able to cherish it and spread knowledge of it in the future.
Recycled art with Marie-Claude Charland
Marie-Claude Charland, Métis artist joined us on 31 August at the National Gallery of Canada. She hosted a workshop on reusing material products to make recycled art. She introduced herself as a Mohawk artist from the Quebec region and then showed some of her own recycled artworks.
After the introduction, Ms. Charland asked everyone to pick out the supplies they wished to use from the recycled materials she brought in. The artist told us to feel the material as we made our art, to let the material show the way and not to force it or waste it, saying that this was the key to creating our own unique piece. Everyone made their own art out of different materials and got to delve into their artistic side to create meaning. During the art making, Ms. Charland played a CD of Aboriginal singing and drumming. She showed a very caring attitude to the environment, asking everyone to throw nothing out if they had excess materials, telling about how it can all be reused. The workshop gave a strong message about how one can be in touch with the environment and how everything one throws away, or reuses affects it. Ms. Charland gave all the participants a great experience by showing how they can help the world as individuals.
This was the last National Gallery of Canada Sakahàn workshop of the summer. Each one explored a different aspect of art, and introduced Aboriginal cultures in their own way, whether traditional art, or art with a personality. The feedback from all the workshops and talks was very positive. I learned a lot from all the artists and I know that everyone else who participated in the workshops and talks did too. It was an amazing experience and an opportunity to learn about the differences among First Nations, Inuit and Métis cultures and realize that how, in the end, we are all part of one big community.
I am a First Nations student studying in the Creative Arts Program at John Abbott College. I study art, how it relates to and impacts culture. I have witnessed how the lack of knowledge of Aboriginal communities affects society and the arts. The Sakahàn exhibition is important for our community, especially for the youth who are its future.
Court by Brian Jungen is a piece created to look like a basketball court, however it is made out of sewing tables found in sweatshops. This work was in direct response to the National Basketball Association’s strike, where wealthy people who already make millions a year, fought over the few more million that they felt they deserved. The irony is, that this was all happening while people living in poverty in third world countries are working in sweatshops for pennies a day, making the shoes and clothing that the NBA stars wear. Though it may look like a basketball court you would not actually want to play on it because there are holes in the tabletops that used to house industrial sewing machines. These tabletops came from sweatshops where basketball gear and memorabilia were most likely produced, leaving us to question social injustice. This piece is made to provoke feelings of discomfort and clear links between the bottom and the top of the food chain. Basketball players make millions, even billions, of dollars a year, such as Steve Nash, who made $8.9 million in 2012. They get paid whether they play or sit on the bench. However somebody that works long hours making basketball gear in uncomfortable environments known as sweat shops make far less money than is suitable to live on. In the end, this piece is about the social injustices within today’s world.
Tela Bordada by Teresa Margolles is a piece that speaks about violence against women in Guatemala and around the world. Indigenous women are the most abused, battered and abducted in the world. A woman living within Guatemala City was murdered and it is on her blood soaked sheet that Teresa Margolles and a group of activists embroidered with traditional Mayan symbols in bright colours. The embroiderers are Indigenous activists fighting against brutality towards women in their country. The blood stained sheet is a symbol of the hatred towards women and the abuse that women suffer on a daily basis in Guatemala. However, the Indigenous embroiderers and the bright coloured embroideries are a symbol of hope and power. The embroiderers are a symbol of power and resistance because they are standing up for what they believe in and coming together as a community to create this piece of artwork. The bright coloured embroideries are a symbol of hope because it is like shining a light into the darkness, the bright colours on the blood stain sheet demonstrate that even in a horrible moment there is still something to hope for; people who care and stand behind you just like the embroiderers. All in all, this piece speaks about the atrocities in the world and the fact that behind every atrocity there is community coming together to stop it.
Identity 1 and Identity 2 by Toru Kaizawa are pieces about the expression of identity by Indigenous Peoples throughout the world. These pieces are made out of wood and look like jackets, with the zipper and buttons revealing just a little bit of what is underneath them. This is linked to the identity of the Indigenous person because what they choose to wear and how they choose to dress reveals a part of their identity. The zipper represents how much of that Indigenous identity one is willing to show. As an example, if one is a bit more reserved then maybe the zipper is only undone a little, however if one is more conservative maybe that zipper is done all the way up revealing nothing. To me, what is underneath those jackets is the Indigenous spirit. Although we live in a contemporary world and our attire has changed, this does not mean that we cannot express who we really are. Nor should we be afraid to express our Indigenous identity in the contemporary world. All in all, this piece is about identity in the contemporary world and although some may be more reserved, we should not hesitate to express who we truly are.
I am Inuk, under the Labrador beneficiaries act, living in Ottawa (Urban Inuit). I have always been interested in art; it is a passion of mine. After dabbling in all kinds of media, I have fallen on painting and photography. I try to let Aboriginal artists influence me. Most of my understanding and knowledge comes through community centres, family, local artists and my own research.
Lawrence Paul Yuxweluptun
I always enjoy a play on words, which is what initially attracted me to Lawrence Paul Yuxweluptun's piece, An Indian Act Shooting the Indian Act. This piece is what remains of a performance by Yuxweluptun in Healey Estate, Northumberland, United Kingdom, 16 years ago, where he actually shot 20 paper copies of the Indian Act. The framed art piece contains a rifle wrapped in ribbon, shells from fired bullets and the shot-up copy of the Act. Unfortunately, I have a somewhat limited knowledge about the Indian Act. Being of Inuit descent, we have a land claims agreement that is more about self-governing, as opposed to the direct legislation of the Indian Act over groups of people with status. As part of the Labrador Inuit Land Claims Agreement, we are able to adapt and develop laws, policies, programs and services based on traditional customs (consensus building), Inuit laws and culture for the benefit of our communities and government. I see this as a stark contrast to the Indian Act. From my research and from being told about the earliest Indian Act, it seemed to be a system full of dead ends for those trying to keep their heritage along with a more European way of living. Before the amendment of the Indian Act in 1985, activities such as a women with Indian status marrying a non-status male, leaving the reserve, or voting in a federal election would mean loss of Indian status. As I continue to inform myself of both the original and amended Indian Act, I understand more why Yuxweluptun would want to shoot it.
This piece is interesting to me because of the physical components. Before the arrival of European settlers, Indians would not have used combustion firearms, bleached paper, plastic beads or synthetic ribbon. These goods were brought in by settlers and traded with Indigenous people. The items are set in front of a green velvet background and placed behind glass, making them like some sort of trophy from or homage to the act of shooting the Indian Act.
Yuxweluptun said that he wanted to be “the first Indian to shoot the Act.” To me, Yuxweluptun is making a very ironic statement. He uses a non-Indigenous weapon to “kill” the non-traditional way of living that the federal government had thrust upon many Indigenous people living in Canada. Symbolically, I think this represents a power struggle on all fronts: the government wanting to control and regulate Indigenous people under a status; Indigenous people attempting to pursue their own identity and trying to find a balance under a “dictated mandate.”
Mary Anne Barkhouse
To me, Mary Anne Barkhouse’s piece Harvest is one of the more exciting installations in the exhibition. I find it incredible how much movement has been created in this collection of sculptures. The bronzed coyote makes me think of a single week, a few years ago, when I owned a young and very large dog. On walks, I would sometimes attempt to get him to play fetch with a stick. Usually we would be caught in a game of tug-o-war with the dog's jaw clamped tightly on one end, my fingers laced around the other and covered in doggie drool, and both of us pulling in opposite directions. I am sure any dog owner can imagine the playful act of trying to take an item from their dog's mouth. I have a suspicion though that this coyote is not teasing the unsuspecting beaver. I can't help but figure this is like watching a friend foolishly trying to rip a table cloth out from under a fancy dinner setting on a dare, with the hopes of having the sparkling glassware, each shiny dessert spoon and plate full of hot food staying in place and not crashing to the ground.
The coyote seems to be taking the easy way out here. If it did yank the cloth from under the beaver, surely it would end up as dinner. I think the coyote would be wrong to take this route. I can only see the chaos that could be caused when the beaver is vaulted upwards and completely baffled at how it came to be airborne. I imagine lily pads plopping back to earth and little clawed paws taking the terrified beaver away from the scene as fast as possible. I want to urge the coyote to take a minute, drop the cloth and carefully sneak its way behind the beaver, opting to be closer and thereby gaining a larger chance to actually have the unwary beaver in its teeth.
I see this blue cloth as water with floating lily pads creating a path between the beaver and coyote. Having portaged many summers in Algonquin Park, canoeing for days at a time, I can remember having to paddle down shallow streams and over dams built by beavers usually leading us into a large lake with a mouth completely covered in green pads. The coyote is tearing ripples into this water-like fabric, making waves and patterns much like a canoe or oar would on a river. I take these ripples to be a symbol of presence, both for better and worse, of Aboriginal people. Making waves on a river to show they are still active, swimming with or against the current to find their own way, eventually gaining some of what they want and need; hopefully, without having everything come crashing down from above.
No matter who you are, where you live or what social status you may have, there is always the possibility that you will be threatened with violence at some point in your life. Acts of rape, murder and assault are more often committed against women. Statistically, Indigenous women around the globe have a higher chance of being victims of violent crime. In Canada alone, aboriginal women over the age of 15 are 3.5 times more likely to experience violence than non-aboriginal women.* Sadly, the life of one woman in Guatemala City ended too early due to an act of violence. In response to her murder, the artist Teresa Margolles gathered a group of women activists to hand-stitch traditional Mayan embroidery onto the blood-stained bed sheet in which the victim's body had been wrapped, creating a beautiful and moving piece called Tela Bordada.
Colourful threads, sewn with a delicate precision, map out everyday items like flowers, birds, stars and candles. There are even dancing people embroidered in this piece of art. Automatically your eye is drawn to all of the colours and forms on the sheet. Maybe they distract your mind from the fact that the sheet is discoloured by the dried blood of the victim. I do not think these embroidered patterns were applied onto the stains to distract the viewer or to cover them. I see them as a rebuilding process or a sort of sign of respect and memory of the women. I find it inspiring to see a group of women coming together after a tragedy to support each other in a constructive way. Her blood was spilled onto the sheet because of a crime against her, I may not know the nature or circumstances of the crime but details are not of vast importance to me. While she may have a gravesite or ashes kept with her loved ones, the stains and embroidery on this sheet leave a different kind of lasting memory of this woman. This act has made her less of a statistic and more of a statement that says: “We are still here.”
Personally, it is important to keep these crucial moments alive. Unity is powerful and can bring about monumental change, making lives better on both the large and personal scales. People tend to be more comfortable with others who have things in common with them, whether it is shared tastes in music, a movie they have seen or places they have travelled. Even a simple thing like a shared favourite food brings people closer together so they can relate. There is a source of pride linked with relating to a stranger: we all go through this together but we all go at it alone. Overall, this piece makes me feel more passionate about being an Indigenous woman, in that no matter where I am go, what I do or who I am with, I can know where I came from and what I belong to.
* Native Women’s Association of Canada
My name is Anna Pulrich and I am studying history and art administration at the University of Ottawa. Writing and art are my passions, and I combine the two as often as I can, contributing articles to the Art and Science Journal every week. I am an artist and aspiring curator, focusing on narratives of cultural identities and hybridities.
Sakahàn – Personal Story
My original excitement for the opening of the Sakahàn: International Indigenous Art exhibition was due to the fact that within my art history degree, contemporary art made by Indigenous peoples was very rarely discussed. Not only did the exhibition inspire me to explore the artistic practices of varying Indigenous artists, I am also inspired to explore the subject matter and cultural aspects in their works and research my own cultural background. My parents emigrated from Poland in the late 1980s and I have always considered myself a hybrid of cultural identities; by blood and upbringing I’m Polish, but by birth, I am legally a Canadian. Surrounding myself with Sakahàn works of art, and seeing and hearing what these artists had to say about their cultural identities, I found myself wondering about my Polish heritage. I looked at folk art, regional dances and even tried to see if there were any Indigenous peoples in Poland other than the ethnic Poles. Throughout this journey, I brought along my friend Edyta D. and her experience really opened my eyes to just how culturally diverse my motherland is. Here is something she shared with me:
Because of Sakahàn, I decided to research more about my Polish culture, to see if there were any Indigenous groups in the country like the Sàmi in Norway. I honestly didn't expect to find much when looking into it. Once I did, I found myself shocked into learning that yes, there were Indigenous groups, and many cultural sub-groups! I heard about a few, such as the Kashubians and Gorals, but I didn't know they were Indigenous or a separate minority; I was always told that they were just Poles with a different Polish dialect because sometimes in countries, there are people who speak differently than others. When looking even further, I found out about another group, the Silesians, who are located near the southwest part of Poland (where my parents and their family originated). It turns out that part of my family is Silesian! I then found out that the Silesian area is a stateless nation (similar to Palestine). Upon further research, I found an article about how the Silesian people are trying to become a separate state from Poland, but it is proving difficult to do so, because many Silesian people have already assimilated into the general Polish identity. With all of this new information, I found out about my people, my country and myself. I wish that there was more information available in schools, in art galleries, and other places. If there were, then these beautiful different cultures in Poland wouldn't have been so easily assimilated. Whatever information we could have learned from these people will be long gone if we don’t recognize their unique cultures!
I’ve been asked many times why I am so emotionally attached to an exhibit, especially one that focuses on Indigenous art. The reason for that is because I am so grateful to the artists, the curators and the exhibit for opening my eyes, not only in terms of learning more about Indigenous rights and other cultures, but for opening my eyes towards my own culture, helping me discover my own cultural identity anew.
The work of Sonny Assu has fascinated me ever since I first saw pictures of Breakfast Series (2006). Mixing pop culture, humour and traditional styles, Sonny creates his own unique language of contemporary Indigenous art. Sonny’s piece in Sakahàn, 1884–1951 (2009), moves away from pop art’s brightly coloured aesthetics to a subtler one.
Copper cups, similar to those found in retailers such as Starbucks or Second Cup, are strewn all over a blanket, purposefully installed to look like a garbage dump. This piece comments on the two very different wealth structures: the modern wealth of the colonial powers versus the traditional wealth of the Laich-kwil-tach (Kwakwaka'wakw) people, whose community Sonny belongs too. Nowadays, we show our wealth by buying coffee for ridiculous prices, walking around with the cup in our hands, displaying our wealth, only to then throw away the remains of our purchase. As if the temporary parade of wealth augmented our social status in any way. This wealth is seen as disposable, readily thrown into a pile of garbage. On the other side, is the traditional practice of the potlatch, the act of collecting valuable goods for years to then give away. In a potlatch, a person is not deemed wealthy by how much they own, or how much they can spend on coffee, but by how much they give away. Chiefs would boast amongst themselves of how much they gave away at each potlatch. To out-do each other, they would rip off pieces of their copper shields, and present them to the other chiefs, thus, the reason for the use of copper, which the cups are made from, as the medium. If the copper alludes to the practice of the potlatch, and the cups allude to the disposable nature of modern goods, in my opinion, the installation itself is a symbol of the government seeing the Native people as a disposable commodity. The biggest clue is in the title: 1884–1951 is how long the practice of the potlatch was banned for.
After hearing Sonny explain his work in his artist’s lecture, I was infuriated that such a beautiful tradition could have been banned. What I began to understand was that the government realized it could not control Indigenous people with money and greed, so it had to control them by taking away their right of generosity, community and sharing. What I realized is that it isn’t the size of your coffee cup that truly shows how rich you are, but the size of your heart.
Geir Tore Holm
Going to Sakahàn every week and attending the artist lectures and curatorial tours allowed me to learn something new about each particular piece of artwork in the Sakahàn: International Indigenous Art exhibition. I did not want to be another visitor just passing through the gallery; I wanted to be a student, learning from the artwork as best as I could about cultural appropriation, cultural identity, land loss and many other issues that Indigenous people have to face in their daily lives. I also wanted to know more about the resilience, hope and faith that keeps their cultures alive. Even on the last day of the exhibition, I found new information, having finally stumbled upon Nicholas Galanin’s petroglyphs behind the gallery. There was one piece though, that I probably would never have found, if not for the volunteers with the Sakahàn Youth Ambassador program.
Sàmi artist Geir Tore Holm installed The Secret Hidden Garden (2013) with the help of the Youth Ambassadors and Sakahàn Youth volunteers, in order to give back to the local Aboriginal community. The art piece is a small, rectangular plot with six plants that Holm researched. All were indigenous to the Ottawa region: yarrow, arnica, echinacea, Anise Hyssop, black-eyed Susan and sage. The Youth Ambassadors were assigned one plant each. Then they researched how to take care of it, found out what it does and harvested the plants for personal use.
I joined one of the many tours to the secret garden, and while walking through it, I became instantly attached to the small plot of plants; almost like a motherly devotion. Before I knew it, I had offered to help the other volunteers take care of the garden. Maybe it was my way of wanting to give back to the community or to actually be able to touch and be a part of a Sakahàn installation, but I could not stop thinking about the garden. I was even able to do some of my own research that I shared and cross-referenced with the Sakahàn Youth Ambassadors. The knowledge and respect that these youth had of the plants, inspired me take care of them.
The experience was more rewarding than I could have imagined. Not only did I get to see as many bees as I wanted (a favourite insect of mine), but I learned how complex plants really are. In a way, each of the plants can have its own personality and each has to be treated differently.