Exploring Métis Identity Past and Present at Lougheed House, Calgary
By Maeve Hanna
Commingling in old rooms full of antique furniture at Lougheed House is the exhibition Exploring Métis Identity Past and Present with work by artists Brittany Cherweniuk, Sharon Cherweniuk, Dawn Saunders Dahl, Sarah Houle, Alyse McLeod, Heather Morigeau, Heather Shillinglaw and Kit Walton. Spread across the three floors of the museum, they present both traditional techniques and materials as well as more contemporary approaches to understanding the complexities of Métis identity. The various lenses through which the audience can view the work are complex, heartfelt, and multiple.
Brittany Cherweniuk’s Quilt explores connectedness through kinship as well as traditional Métis craft. The quilt is made from moccasin vamps gathered by three generations of women gifted to the them by friends, family members, and even strangers. The vamps were then incorporated into the quilt design accompanied by tassels of horse hair. Elegant and tactile, the piece stands for the women of the Métis nation individually and collectively. In her artist statement Cherweniuk explains: “We invite you to look at each flower and recognize her as the women in your lives.”
Alyse McLeod’s two paintings from her series Bella and Alyse and Colin and Dog narrate stories about her family and Métis heritage she learned of only in adulthood. The first painting depicts the artist in the arms of her grandmother Bella. A victim of the Sixties Scoop, McLeod was six weeks old when she was removed from her Métis-Cree family. Her adoption file was stamped with the inscription “Métis, not suitable for adoption” and she was sent to foster care, never to meet many of her relatives. Years later she learned of her relations through stories and encounters with strangers who knew her family. The second painting is of her father with a dog. It originated from a photograph within a collection that her father carried in his pocket until the day he died. The proximity of being held close to the body translates beautifully in this tender image, as one imagines how precious this memory must have been to the owner and now to his daughter, the artist.
Combining the traditional and the contemporary, the work in Exploring Métis Identity Past and Present pushes the viewer towards a renegotiation of what Métis identity means in the current political climate. The exhibition offers an excellent forum for a critical conversation about Indigenous identity at a time when these conversations are crucial.
Maeve Hanna is a writer and curator who holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts Honours in Visual Art and Literature from York University and the University of Leeds and a Master of Arts in Art History and Icelandic Studies from Université du Québec à Montréal and the University of Manitoba on location in Iceland. She has previously written for Black Flash, C Magazine, Canadian Art, esse arts + opinions, Frieze, Sculpture Magazine and the Senses and Society. She is Akimblog’s Calgary correspondent and can be followed on Instagram @maeve_hanna.