Indigenous Artists Make Cultural Stand

By Zoratti, Jen | Winnipeg Free Press, September 28, 2018 | Go to article overview

Indigenous Artists Make Cultural Stand


Zoratti, Jen, Winnipeg Free Press


What makes a place?

That question was at the heart of This Place on Treaty 1 Territory & the homeland of the Métis Nation, a new public-art project featuring four sculptural works by contemporary Indigenous artists — Rebecca Belmore and Osvaldo Yero, Kenneth Lavallee, Julie Nagam and Roland Souliere — commissioned by the Winnipeg Arts Council. Installed around Air Canada Park in downtown Winnipeg, these pieces will be unveiled to the public at a concert celebration from 3:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. featuring a slate of Indigenous performers, including Leonard Sumner, the Help Wanteds, the Asham Stompers, Nikki Komaksiutiksak, and Ray (Co-co) Stevenson, Rhonda James and the Walking Wolf Singers.

Friday’s unveiling of This Place is one of the 470 free cultural events happening this weekend as part of Culture Days Manitoba, an annual three-day celebration of art and culture — the things that make this place our place. From Sept. 28-30, Culture Days will be celebrated in 26 communities, towns and cities in Manitoba.

The Winnipeg Arts Council believes in the importance of decolonization through public art. To that end, This Place is the result of several years of consultation with the Mayor’s Indigenous Advisory Circle, as well as Indigenous artists, elders, knowledge-keepers, curators and scholars. “It’s like an iceberg,” says Alexis Kinloch, the project manager of public art at the Winnipeg Arts Council. “You’re seeing the public art part, but below or before that came a lot of asking questions and listening.”

The four works that compose This Place are striking and varied: Belmore and Yero used concrete and weathering steel to create O-ween du muh waun (We were told), a stack of school chairs erected as an “anti-monument” to forced colonial education. Lavallee’s The Square Dancers is an ode to jigging, the traditional dance of the Métis — itself a symbol of resilience — in blue-painted steel. Souliere’s Mediating the Treaties is a vivid $3 coin that “captures the ambivalence of Treaty No. 1.”

Nagam’s Electrical Currents, meanwhile, is an abstract water turbine made from glass and steel.

“I’d been thinking about my time in northern Manitoba — I lived in Thompson for six-and-a-half years — and I’ve seen a big chunk of the hydroelectric developments that have happened in northern and central Manitoba,” says Nagam, who was one of the co-curators of the Winnipeg Art Gallery’s Insurgence/Resurgence Indigenous contemporary art exhibition that was on display last winter. “I was really interested in bringing to light the aspects that southern Manitobans might not be aware of. …

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