Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
The Radical Stitch contemporary exhibit is currently on display at the Art Gallery of Hamilton until May 28 and will be scheduled to tour at various locations throughout Canada until 2025.
Organized and circulated by the Mackenzie Art Gallery, the exhibit showcases Indigenous beadwork ranging from traditional items, including clothing and jewelry, to more contemporary work such as wall art and book covers.
The exhibit showcases about 35 artists from across Turtle Island telling a story of how the tradition of beadwork has evolved throughout the years.
“The artwork that is represented within the exhibition, it really shows a variety in styles and nations but also in the subject matter,” said Michelle LaVallee, one of the exhibit curators.
“It ranges from wearable work, to portraiture, to installation or video. Some artists are reflecting on personal and communal experiences. A lot of the work is looking at healing and honouring and how the practice can be used to help people in hard times, but there is also work that is funny and displays the sense of humour that we as Indigenous people have, but often doesn’t get featured as broadly.”
As a whole, the Radical Stitch Exhibit celebrates the innovation and tactile beauty of beads and the future direction of the traditional art form, said LaVelle who worked with fellow curators Sherry Farrell Racette and Cathy Mattes on developing the exhibit.
“We are stepping outside of what we would say would be considered traditional Indigenous art, but it’s not at the same time,” said Judy Anderson, one of the artists in the exhibit. “They are calling it Radical Stitch because to bead is radical… To work in these ways is radical. So, the messages that the artists are putting into their works is radical.”
LaVallee explained how each piece of work truly reflects on family or communal practice.
Whether it’s the use of raised beadwork, floral patterns, abstract patterning or unique mediums, each are distinctive to the different territories the artists are from.
“These are things that are reclaimed by artists who are seeking to reconnect with their culture or in many cases techniques and patterns that get passed down from one generation to another, whether that is in a familial context or even a learning context,” explained LaVallee.
Anderson, who originates from Treaty 4 territory, has contributed two pieces to the exhibit. One is a beaded book cover from one of her favorite authors and the other is an installation that portrays her own emotions over the loss of her brother.
Every Time I think of you I cry was a piece that her family all contributed to completing.
Her brother, Eugene, was taken in the 60s Scoop, and despite efforts to locate him he had passed away before Anderson and her family could find him.
“Even though I didn’t know him,” she said. “The place that he held for me was very important.”
During the creating process of each one of her projects, she says she connects with the source of inspiration for her work.
The project represents the emotion of crying and tears when she thinks of him. It is an installation that consists of a horizontal bar containing a number of vertical strings. Each string has a combination of clear and opaque beads. Once all the strings are attached to the bar it almost appears like water with the very faint name Eugene across it.
“When I am beading, it is always connection for me. When I’m working, I’m always thinking about other people,” said Anderson, adding the process of creating a finished project takes a lot of time which for her creates almost a sense of meditation and gives her a clear focus about her project.
“It would emotionally and mentally help me connect with people and even the material,” she added.
Anderson is an associate professor at the University of Calgary for the Canadian Indigenous Studio Art classes.
“Beadwork holds this enormously important place for Indigenous people and so… it’s already held that important place within our societies but what it’s doing when we hold exhibitions like that it’s pushing that importance forward in everybody’s eyes. It is displacing that colonial thought. It also allows people when they see this stuff to then go make their own.”
The collective goal of the exhibit is to “challenge both beadwork artists and art audiences to see the unlimited potential and just to appreciate the beauty of beadwork,” said LaVallee.
“Everybody will be able to relate to it in some way and walk away with hopefully a greater appreciation for the art form and a deeper understanding of some of the issues that some of the artists are speaking about.”
Radical Stitch will travel to the Thunder Bay Art Gallery in October with more dates to be announced as they become confirmed. For more information about the exhibit and it’s upcoming locations visit the McKenzie Art Gallery.
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Local Journalism Initiative Reporters are supported by a financial contribution made by the Government of Canada.