April 23, 2020

Students’ beadworks showcased in prestigious Contemporary Native Art Biennial

First-time beaders honoured to exhibit their art course work: Opening ceremony livestreamed April 23

An Indigenous art professor and her students have been invited to showcase their beadwork at the Contemporary Native Art Biennial (BACA) in Montreal, a prestigious event that spotlights the best of recent contemporary Indigenous art. This year is the fifth edition of the biennale, with as theme Kahwatsiretátie: Teionkwariwaienna Tekariwaiennawahkòntie | Honouring Kinship.

The curators David Garneau, Faye Mullen and rudi aker asked a dozen artists to invite ‘kin’ to exhibit with them. This redistribution of curatorial agency is a form of non-colonial practice. Associate professor Judy Anderson is one of the selected artists. She invited her son Cruz and UCalgary students Lucas Hale and Devonn Drossel to participate.

Devonn Drossel (Métis) is currently in her final year of a combined degree program with a BA in International Indigenous Studies and a BA in Linguistics and Language. Lucas Hale (Lenape, Potawatomi) is in his third year of his BA in International Indigenous Studies, with a minor in Visual Studies and Art History. Initially, both students, without previous beading experience took ART 365: Introduction to Indigenous Art with Judy Anderson. The course offered them connections with the community that was created in the class, but also with their Indigenous backgrounds.

“My mom is an Indigenous artist,” says Hale. “This class gave me the opportunity to connect with what my mom does and to explore our culture.”

Drossel agrees. “The course allowed me to engage with an art form that people in my Métis community have been working in for so many generations. Learning how to bead felt like an opportunity to connect with my community and my culture in a very meaningful way.”

Although the course came with its challenges and frustrations — learning all the skills and techniques of beading — seeing the finished artworks made it worthwhile.

“When I tied that final knot I was absolutely elated and proud,” says Drossel. “To go from not knowing how to bead at all to finishing a piece that was so personal and meaningful to me — that was an incredible feeling.”

“I really felt like I accomplished something great,” says Hale. “Getting good grades is nice, but this was something tangible that I created from nothing and was able to gift to my mom.”

Both students decided to broaden their beading skills and continued in ART 465. The work they created for this course will now be part of BACA.

Skateboarding is Medicine

Lucas Hale used traditional beading techniques to create contemporary skateboard graphic art, focusing on themes of healing and kinship, with imagery influenced by a Lenape creation story.

“As the child of parents who were both adopted, I wish to honour my relationships with my parents, and the cultures I was raised with,” says Hale. “My mother, a survivor of the Sixties Scoop, was disconnected from her culture at an early age. Together we are on a journey of reconnecting with our Lenape roots. My father, also disconnected from his culture, raised me within the culture of skateboarding.”

Hale discovered there are many parallels between skateboarding and beading. “Every prick of the finger and troublesome knot reminds me of the challenge of trying to land a trick. At times, both can be frustrating, but the end result is rewarding, and the process is humbling and therapeutic. Beading is medicine. Skateboarding is medicine.”

This is the first in a series of skateboards Hale plans to create. He has been working on another skateboard this semester in a directed study class with Judy Anderson.

ê-kiskisiyahk miciwin: as we remember food

Devonn Drossel found an apron in an antique store and decided to bead plants onto it that Métis women have gathered for food and medicine both historically and in the present day: saskatoon berries, cattails, prairie sage, yarrow, and prairie roses.

“I'm passionate about Indigenous food sovereignty and connecting to foodways that contribute to healthy people, communities, and lands,” says Drossel. “I’ve learned about how colonization impacted Indigenous food systems and how colonial narratives contributed to the erasure of Indigenous food knowledge. For me, the apron was a symbol of those narratives.

"Beading these plants onto the apron and the conversations that it prompted with my mom about gathering foods were acts of resisting erasure and strengthening kinship through, and with, Métis foodways. I wanted to create a piece that represented the women in my family and community who have had relationships with different plants and foods for generations.”

Taking the initial ART 365 course prompted Drossel to take more art courses. Now, she’s going to be incorporating beadwork into her master’s degree in native studies which she’ll be starting in the fall at the University of Alberta.

“Having the opportunity to be a part of BACA 2020 is just beyond incredible. If it wasn’t for these beading courses and Judy’s teaching, I wouldn’t have ever considered myself capable of any sort of art career, and I'm so grateful to her for pushing me and encouraging me,” says Drossel.

The Contemporary Native Art Biennial (BACA) will present its exhibitions, performances, and other community programming online from April 23 to June 21, 2020. The opening ceremony will be livestreamed on Facebook on April 23 at 5 p.m. EDT.