Nature as Communities at Dalhousie Art Gallery

By Emmanuel Nwogbo

Curated by Jennifer Yakamovich (a Masters of Environmental Studies candidate at Dalhousie University),  Nature as Communities is a fascinating exhibition examining how various artists across Canada are redefining our understanding of “nature.” Through sounds, sights, feelings, memories, and actions, they share their unique experiences of nature and challenge colonial structures in a bid to preserve it. The exhibition features seven sets of finished and ongoing projects that take up a large portion of the sizable Dalhousie Art Gallery. Each project embodies a different tone and feeling. As one traverses the space, the change between pieces is palpable.

PA System & Embassy of Imagination, Towards Something New and Beautiful + Future Snowmachines in Kinngait, 2017 – ongoing, installation detail (photo: Wes Johnston)

Upon entering the gallery, one’s eyes are drawn to four shiny cast-aluminum sculptures sitting on a wooden platform. This is part of an installation titled Towards Something New and Beautiful + Future Snowmachines in Kinngait. Next to the aluminum casts are 3D prints and aluminum, copper, and linoleum remains from the old Peter Pitseolak High School in Kinngait (Cape Dorset) that burned down in 2015 (it has since been rebuilt). The sculptures and prints depict “snowmachines” adapted from homemade flour-and-water playdough models fashioned by local youth (Christine Adamie, Lachaolasie Akesuk, Moe Kelly, David Pudlat, and Nathan Adla) involved in the Embassy of Imagination program in collaboration with Toronto-based artist duo PA System (Alexa Hatanaka and Patrick Thompson). The aluminum used to cast the dream snowmachines was salvaged from the remains of the burned school and the sale of these sculptures has empowered the group to purchase real snowmobiles.

Why snowmachines/snowmobiles? The intention is to get the youth to interact with their land, their environment, and the nature around them. In their exhibition text, PA System & Embassy of Imagination write: “Going on land transmits important knowledge. Every kid deserves to access their culture. Beyond cultural persistence, going on the land contributes to wellness, food security, and inspiration for the artwork.”

PA System & Embassy of Imagination, Towards Something New and Beautiful + Future Snowmachines in Kinngait, 2017 – ongoing, installation detail (photo: Wes Johnston)

Hanging on the wall above these dream snowmachines are pictures and notes from the youth workshops that speak boldly to the project’s main idea: “sitting with your creativity can create change for yourself and your community.” The artists’ statement goes on to say, “through your art-making, your own hands can allow you to imagine a different future for you and your peers.” Besides showing their progress so far, these notes, doodles, and photos illustrate how much fun the participating youth are having while redefining their community’s future.

The artists are also interested in the dual meanings of the materials they used. For example, the linoleum was taken from the floors of  the school – one of the essential tools of colonization – but, as they write, “linoleum is a tool of printmaking, and printmaking is a language in Kinngait.”

By challenging gallery visitors to question the remnants of colonialism that continue to create distance between community and nature, Towards Something New and Beautiful sums up you everything you can learn from Nature as Communities. Other powerful installations in the exhibition include a series of colourful and fragile paper-cut drawings by Diyan Achjadi, Streamwalkers – Field Guides for Listeners by Jay White and Jennifer Schine, a captivating visual presentation of Sandra Semchuk’s dream about a trapper,  Becoming Sensor by Ayelen Liberona and Natasha Myers with sound composer Allison Cameron, and Ayoka Junaid’s printmaking experimentation with the use of plant-based natural dyes and found silk entitled Love Letters to Myself. Due to its scale, it is quite easy to get lost in the education that Nature as Communities provides, but the diversity of the various artists’ efforts to mend the severed ties between nature and culture makes the experience enjoyable and compelling.

Nature as Communities continues until July 14.
Dalhousie Art Gallery:
The gallery is accessible.

Emmanuel Nwogbo is a Nigerian-born visual artist who now resides in Halifax. Having grown up in the hustling and bustling city of Lagos, his colorful artworks pay homage to his motherland. His lifelong interest in art and culture led him to an academic pursuit in Visual Art and Visual Communication Design, and later a master’s degree at NSCAD University.