Abo­rig­i­nal art pro­vides good medicine for hos­pi­tal gallery

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - ENTERTAINMENT - ALI­SON MAYES

WHEN Jack­son Beardy was a lit­tle boy in Man­i­toba’s Gar­den Hill First Na­tion in the 1940s, he learned the tra­di­tional myths and leg­ends of the Oji-Cree peo­ple from his grand­mother.

At age seven, he was taken away to a cul­ture-negat­ing res­i­den­tial school.

By his 20s, he was lost and trou­bled. But Beardy found his heal­ing path through art. He went back to his com­mu­nity, re­learned sa­cred sto­ries from the el­ders, and be­gan to give them vis­ual form.

“He started to de­pict th­ese sto­ries in his very bold style,” says cu­ra­tor Leona Herzog.

In 1973, Beardy was a found­ing mem­ber of the Pro­fes­sional Na­tive In­dian Artists In­cor­po­ra­tion, bet­ter known as the In­dian Group of Seven. The fa­mous group had a pro­found in­flu­ence on abo­rig­i­nal art be­ing ex­hib­ited and val­ued across Canada.

Beardy, who died in 1984 at age 40, now ranks as an iconic Man­i­to­ban artist. He is one of four Man­i­toba First Na­tions creators fea­tured in Meta­mor­pho­sis: A Con­ver­sa­tion, a justopened show at the Buh­ler Gallery in St. Boni­face Hos­pi­tal.

On dis­play un­til Sept. 16, it’s the first all-abo­rig­i­nal show to be mounted at the free, pub­lic gallery lo­cated just off the hos­pi­tal’s main lobby.

On Abo­rig­i­nal Day, June 21, the hos­pi­tal will be high­light­ing the show and en­cour­ag­ing First Na­tions pa­tients, staff and fam­i­lies to en­joy the gallery.

A to­tal of 38 prints, paint­ings and mixed-me­dia works, dat­ing from the early 1970s to this year, have been as­sem­bled for the exhibition. They’re on loan from pri­vate and cor­po­rate col­lec­tions, gal­leries and the artists them­selves.

Eddy Cobi­ness, raised on Man­i­toba’s Buf­falo Point re­serve, was a mem­ber of the In­dian Group of Seven who died in 1996. The other two artists in the show, Jackie Tra­verse and Li­nus Woods, are pro­fes­sion­als in their 40s who are ac­tively cre­at­ing and show­ing.

“This is re­ally an in­ter-gen­er­a­tional show,” says Herzog, who has co­or­di­nated the exhibition as a master’s stu­dent in cu­ra­to­rial prac­tice at the Univer­sity of Win­nipeg. “The work of the fore­run­ners has very much in­flu­enced the work of both Jackie and Li­nus, but they are tak­ing it into their own di­rec­tions.”

The ti­tle Meta­mor­pho­sis is partly in­spired by three Beardy works from 1981 that flow together as a trip­tych, show­ing a thun­der dancer on the left, a shaman­is­tic trans­for­ma­tion from hu­man to spirit animal in the cen­tre, and a thun­der­bird on the right.

All the artists draw on oral teach­ings and de­pict the nat­u­ral world as in­ter­con­nected with the spirit world, Herzog says. The gallery’s hos­pi­tal set­ting makes it a place of meta­mor­pho­sis, she notes, since vis­i­tors are of­ten ex­pe­ri­enc­ing birth, death, pro­found change or trans­for­ma­tive heal­ing.

Both Woods and Tra­verse were in­spired by the op­por­tu­nity to show in a hos­pi­tal and cre­ated new works for the exhibition, she says. A new Tra­verse piece called Good Medicine in­cludes bear claws, sym­bolic of med­i­cal heal­ing

The “con­ver­sa­tion” part of the ti­tle ac­knowl­edges a di­a­logue be­tween gen­er­a­tions, cul­tures and the works them­selves. “The pieces talk to each other,” says Herzog.

Ideas of pro­tec­tion and care­giv­ing, for in­stance, can be seen in animal fam­i­lies ren­dered by Beardy and Cobi­ness, and in Woods’ red styl­ized ea­gle span­ning the sky and ab­stract patch­work blan­ket pro­tect­ing the Earth in his paint­ing Buf­falo Run­ner.

The works by Cobi­ness are del­i­cate wa­ter­colours of an­i­mals such as geese, rac­coons, frogs and wolves. The crea­tures are “X-rayed” to show their in­ner spir­i­tual di­men­sion, ex­pressed through egg-shaped forms.

Many of Beardy’s silkscreen prints in­clude a wavy rib­bon of colour that seems to ex­tend beyond the pic­ture, sug­gest­ing life’s in­fi­nite flow. “It re­ally is about all of life be­ing con­nected,” Herzog says.

Woods, from Long Plain First Na­tion, had a re­cent solo show called Elk Dreamer’s Dream. At the time, he de­scribed his works as “things I paint on my cave wall.” He of­ten in­te­grates sym­bols of the abo­rig­i­nal past with vi­sions of the fu­ture. Horses fig­ure in many of his large, boldly coloured paint­ings, as do UFOs and space­ships.

Tur­tles, ravens and spi­ral forms re­cur in the work of Tra­verse, who comes from Lake St. Martin First Na­tion but has spent most of her life in Win­nipeg. Her re­cent acrylic/mixed­me­dia work White Buf­falo Calf is drawn from the story of White Buf­falo Woman, who brought the seven sa­cred teach­ings to the Lakota peo­ple.

“She has in­cluded her own hand­print,” says Herzog. “She is mar­ry­ing the spir­i­tual with the hu­man.”

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