My mother always said something very special could be felt in the sounds of an Aboriginal drum beat.
That specialness was palpable as Thunderbird House resident elder Larry Monkman concluded his introductory words with a song and drumming at the first Indigenous Artwalk Tour presented by the Downtown Business Improvement Zone.
The last drum beat reverberated at length.
“Braided sweet grass is in three” said Monkman, explaining how this represents patience, kindness, and honesty – things that he said could be seen in the Downtown Winnipeg Business Improvement Zone for their commitment to building community connection through the Indigenous Artwalk project.
The walk’s theme of Welcome was interpreted by 12 artists whose work is showcased in windows of downtown store fronts. A walking tour route connects the tour stops.
Beginning at Bison Books, 424 Graham Ave., a bright yellow and red painting depicts an Aboriginal woman with arms outstretched in welcome. She faces three bison upon the vibrant landscape.
Beside this painting is a portrait of a woman curvaceous with pregnancy. Mother earth sits above her, mirroring the woman’s shape. Painted in tones of blue, the woman seems to gaze smokily from the picture to look at the group assembled for the inaugural artwalk tour. Both paintings are by Storm Angeconeb and are entitled Miigwech (Welcome).
“This all happened super-serendipitously,” said RoseAnna Schick, event organizer. “We put out calls and 12 artists responded. We approached many businesses, and 12 happened to come forward. It just worked out,” she said.
She noted how perfectly Storm Angeconeb’s work featuring the bison fit thematically at the window of Bison Books. It became stop number one.
Before the group was escorted along the route by Downtown BIZ ambassadors, BIZ managing director Jason Syvixay detailed a brief history, beginning when Lisa Meeches said to the organization in 2013 that their programming omitted Aboriginal culture and tradition.
Since then, the BIZ has sought inclusiveness through various initiatives. On Tuesday, the first Indigenous Artwalk Tour opened, the day before the Manito Ahbee Festival is set to commence. The festival is considered one of the largest pow wows in the world.
“We are on the cusp of something wonderful,” said Lisa Meeches, Downtown Winnipeg BIZ Aboriginal Peoples Advisory Committee member. Referring to a sense of renewal, she referenced Louis Riel’s “100 years” quote that prophetically identified artists as those who will inspire the people.
Sharon Redsky, artist and band member of Shoal Lake #40 First Nation, spoke about her collaborative piece with her cousin Crystal Redsky-Smith entitled Water Welcome. It is a collection of Shoal Lake photos that includes one of her aunt performing a water ceremony.
“Water is sacred,” said Sharon Redsky. “We all need to take care of it.”
Also in the installation are bead work pieces and a bright jingle dress. “Dancing is a healing force,” she said.
“Jingle dress dancers are called upon to dance for those who are sick. The metal cones create a beautiful sound that sing out to the spirits as the dancer moves with the drum,” reads the text posted within the windows of the Women’s Health Clinic.
Walking from Graham Avenue to Portage Avenue, a painting of beautiful Ojibwe flower globes greet tour participants with the newness of spring blossoms. An accompanying work includes the word Aniin (hello) in wood underscored with a curving panel of stylized flowers set against a black background.
The accompanying artist bio reads that Renata Meconse works in communications and community outreach, just as her painting of blooms reach upward. The unique patterns upon the flower globes hold picture perfect detail. The flowers look as if they are adorned in bead work; they are displayed in the storefront window of Don’s Photo.
Close by in another Portage Avenue window, a work by artist Leonard Bighetty, presents the beautiful serenity of a tipi next to a small house with windows glowing warmly at twilight. Both structures sit alongside a tranquil waterway. Entitled Deja View – one wonders if Bighetty suggests the feeling of what once was (Deja Vu) is a vision of what will be (View).
RoseAnna Schick, who hosted the walk, described Bighetty as a unique artist whose work spans realism to surrealism as well as abstraction. Schick said Bighetty is most proud of his home at Red Road Lodge in Winnipeg, known for its residents of artists.
A jacket painted by Bighetty is also on display. Upon its black denim is a proud eagle, looking into a planet-like object. The image is bordered by what appears to be wind sculpted feathers that form into a tipi and then shape back again into a border; colours shift from blue to purple-white against the cloth’s darkness.
The art works are set behind the front windows of Marvel Beauty School. Schick quoted Bighetty: “A piece isn’t complete unless it sings a song.”
Bittersweet is a fascinating work by Kevin Anderson, an artist described by Schick as someone who became self reliant at a young age and was homeless for a decade.
“He used drawing to overcome his situation,” said Schick. Developing a highly individual technique, Schick said Anderson’s black and white style was created out of his experience of homelessness.
Bittersweet contains profound emotions and imagery; a heart on the end of a sickle-shaped vine emanates from a woman’s hand. The vine pushes forth between a broken liquor jug and a crying person. It is set within a forest along with fairy tale-like characters and mushroom shaped cottage structures.
It makes for an eerie and highly compelling piece. Primary colours of red and blue are dramatically sparse amid a backdrop of detailed black and white pattern and images. The work is placed in the front window of Book Fair Comics.
Within a front window of the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network is a painting by Jacqueline Traverse called Water Carriers. Long, dark, luxuriant hair of women and girls wearing bright blankets creates a striking visual pattern; four figures among the many are wearing feathers that create a mysterious interest.
The artist bio accompanying Water Carriers describes Traverse as an artist who works in all mediums. She has created a stop motion film about missing and murdered women in Canada and has used art to depict many challenging subjects.
Brooklyn Rudolph-Nicholas titled her portrait Welcome Home. It is of an elderly couple, their daughter and her child who stand at their tipi on a cold evening. It depicts “a beautiful welcome that can last forever,” said Schick.
Rudolph-Nicholas is only 17 and “seems well on her way to her goal to become a professional artist,” added Schick.
Rudolph-Nicholas paints for family, which may be the ingredient that imbues the painting with a feeling of emotional security and warmth. It seemed an appropriate piece to complete the mini tour of the walk that showed only half of the 12 works.
A concluding reception at the Alt Hotel followed. Here, Renata Meconse explained the art show was her very first, despite work that appeared sophisticated and holding traditional influences.
Meconse said she was not formally taught and tried to teach herself from observing technique.
She lauded the Downtown BIZ’s work, especially the recent ceremony for Aboriginal elder Joe Meconse who was asked to leave Portage Place in February. The incident created change in security service at the central downtown mall and raised awareness far and wide.
“That is my dad,” said Meconse.
There could not be a better word than “Super – serendipitous” for a tour that began with the depth and specialness of elder Larry Monkman’s resonating drum beat.