Animals in the Parlour at the Esker Foundation
“The animals have taken over the parlour,” laughs Mary Anne Barkhouse, a Kwakiutl artist, as she describes her newest exhibition at the Esker Foundation in Calgary, Alberta.
Barkhouse, who was born in Vancouver, travelled frequently across Canada when she was a child, visiting family on both the West and East Coasts. This experience gave her an appreciation of the land and the diversity of animals living on it, which is reflected in her work.
The exhibition, Le rêve aux loups (The Dream of Wolves) is an expanded iteration of an exhibition that originated at the Koffler Gallery in Toronto earlier this year. It includes works from museum collections across Canada as well as four new works created specifically for the Esker Foundation exhibition.
One of the pieces in the exhibition, Harvest (2009), on loan from the National Gallery of Canada, features a beaver sitting on a long harvest table. The beaver is gazing upon delicate lily pad sculptures, on which are written the names of the original indigenous inhabitants of the Muhheakantuck River area (now known as the Hudson River). At the other end of the table, a coywolf grasps the edge of the tablecloth in his mouth. The entire table setting looks as if it’s about to come crashing down.
“I believe this is one of her very best works,” says Jennifer Rudder, guest curator for the exhibition. “When I first saw it at the NGC, I felt like the wind had been knocked out of me — both for its great beauty and the powerful gesture of the coyote ripping the tablecloth out from under the settlers’ harvest table.” Rudder explains that much of Barkhouse’s work is a subversive comment about land theft and politics. But if the animals have taken over the parlour, Rudder asks, “then it begs the questions, ‘who owns the land?’ and ‘who is the intruder?’”
Visitors to the Esker Foundation exhibition will also have the opportunity to view four new Barkhouse works. In the Aerie (2017) series, the artist positions a Victorian-era crib and pram in two galleries. Inside the crib and pram rest porcelain and fabric baby birds of prey, including owls, eaglets, and other bird figures inspired by mythological creatures of the Northwest Coast, like a thunderbird. Barkhouse says this piece was inspired by an old photograph she saw of her mother and friends taken by a fellow student at St. Michael’s residential school in Alert Bay, B.C.
“It made me think about how vulnerable [the children] were when they were young,” she says, “but how powerful they would become when they grew up.”
Another new piece is a one-hundred-foot banner of the Executive Summary of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission report with the ninety-four Calls to Action highlighted, which is essential reading for all Canadians who aspire to facilitate reconciliation.
In this new exhibition, Barkhouse was pleased to bring together new works and earlier works that have been separated by time and space. “It’s a gift for me and it’s like they’re visiting each other.”
Rudder says visitors to Le rêve aux loups will see the work of an accomplished artist and craftsperson who uses a variety of materials, including bronze, porcelain, wood, glass, fabric and brass. “The strong message conveyed by her elegant and often humourous work,” says Rudder, “is that we have a lot of work to do on our skills of adaptation and cohabitation in order to survive. With treaties in dispute and continued tensions along boundaries and borders, the works of Mary Anne Barkhouse remind us of the need for coexistence and resistance against isolation, fragmentation and alienation.”
Le rêve aux loups is on view at the Esker Foundation in Calgary, Alberta from September 16 to December 22, 2017.