Storied Objects: Métis Art in Relation at Remai Modern, Saskatoon

By Lindsay Sorell

I had to drive down to Saskatoon to see Storied Objects: Métis Art in Relation at the Remai Modern. As a Métis woman coming in from Waskesiu, I felt like I was travelling to a family reunion of sorts – a celebration of the web across time from the Red River diaspora that is today’s network of Métis families. Curated by Tarah Hogue under the counsel of Métis Studies scholar Sherry Farrell Racette, this group exhibition represents artists from the early 1800s to today. It is an extensive feat of collaboration that enables Métis artists and community members like me to share space with the hands of our grandmothers across institutional barriers and through history.

David Garneau, Métis Education, 2021, acrylic on panel (photo: Lindsay Sorell)

Not only does Storied Objects draw artworks from various museum and personal collections, the exhibition actively embeds each artwork in multiple forms of storytelling. From beaded leggings made in the 1870s to electrified wands from 2021 installed in a circle by Jessie Ray Short, each artwork exists as its own living story and is situated within forms of the community-based setting that Métis’ traditional ways emanate from. Spaces have been made for storytelling and visiting throughout the gallery. A kitchen table doubles as a display for quillwork (under its glass top) and an opportunity to grab a chair and spend some time. In the next room there is a large lumber dining table with benches and a tea station – the type you would move aside when the fiddle comes out – so visitors can sit and connect. Workshops and sessions with Métis Knowledge Keepers, scholars, artists, and musicians have also been held here since the exhibition’s opening. Wilfred Burton, Krystle Pederson, Cort Dogniez, and Tristen Durocher taught attendees to jig, and traditional silk and needlework artist Roxanne Fischer came in for a visiting session to demonstrate her craft.

Jessie Ray Short, Elder Wands, 2021, extension cords, SS violet wands, spiral bulb attachments, pleather holsters, thread (photo: Lindsay Sorell)

Walking through the gallery, my emotional reaction to the work was at times overwhelming; it was like seeing family after a long time, seeing memories not mine, seeing the hand of grandmothers and great grandmothers and their friends, their treasures, their lives, their hardships, their tenacity. I oscillated between pride at seeing familiar Métis family names – especially those from my region of Prince Albert – and sadness at remembering the difficulties these families have had. For artist Bob Boyer, ancestors on both his father’s and mother’s side died during the 1885 Resistance in Batoche. These stories both hurt and connect us to the truth of our known and unknown past, and give us the opportunity to ultimately pursue healing. Jessie Ray Short’s circle of thirteen electrically charged wands called Elder Wands offers a gentle shock to anyone willing to reach out and touch their glass coils. To her, this shock is a recreation of the “shock of insight” that comes from reaching out to hear the story of an Elder.

Lynette La Fontaine, Tea Cozy, 2022, seed beads, Melton wool, interfacing, insulated batting, cotton print, 2022 (photo: Lindsay Sorell)

Storied Objects shows the continuity of Métis teachings and craftsmanship, the never-ending importance of the land as teacher and medicine cabinet, and practice of beautifying practical life. Through every technological introduction, it shows how Métis practices have adapted and expressed these changes. Traditional quillwork techniques and patterns were adapted to beadwork when European beads were introduced in a limited selection of colours. Over time, the selection of colours and materials grew, developing new styles of contemporary beadwork. As the bison hunt declined, so did the decoration of saddles and horse blankets. However, as domestic life and agriculture increased, so did more home items such as rugs, couches, pillows, tea cozies, etc. We see that Métis art has adapted and continued to adapt to our contemporary lives, with expressions in paint, technology, installation, and beyond. Through it all, Métis artists continue to value the beautification of our practical world, and celebrate the joy of hard work with our hands, with our bodies, and with each other. And we continue to carry the traditional ways as the land continues to teach us how to live and relate each other. As I drove back up north into the bush like my ancestors did for the bison hunt, I thought of what Christi Belcourt said, “The earth is my government,” and I wonder what laws I should be upholding as I move forward in my life.

Storied Objects: Métis Art in Relation continues until July 2.
Remai Modern:
The gallery is accessible.

Lindsay Sorell is an artist and researcher based in Waskesiu, Saskatchewan.