Storyline – draft copy….

Well, we are continually working towards February 2008, when this exhibit will open. Our team of 4 individuals has been both rewarding and interesting and I am sure that we will have an extremely wonderful exhibit. Our process has been very lengthy and there has been many meetings, with discussions and viewings. The amount and quality of ‘Art’-ifacts in the collection is both overwhelming and simply marvellous. I’ve had many reactions to things that we’ve already viewed and can’t help but feel lucky to be a part of this team. I done a lot of research of the art of the First Nations Peoples and to my amazement I’ve come across designs and art that I’ve never seen before. I guess, for the most part, you the viewer will have to wait for the exhibit to see these things.

At this time we’ve also been working on where we would like to take this exhibit. The following is another draft on where we would like to take this exhibit. Read on and remember to follow this blog to keep abreast of where we are in the process of putting this exhibit together.

“A Breath of Fresh Air”
Aboriginal Art from Canada’s Prairie Provinces and the Western sub-Arctic
(Note: This storyline is a work in draft)

“Art” has always been a part of the daily lives of First Nations people. They wore art; they lived with it; and they used it to explore the world of the ancestors and the spiritual realm to which they belonged. Through art they connected with Source of All Life in many different and distinct ways.

Art continues to be an important part of people’s lives. Although people wear decorated clothing less often, they are an important part of traditional celebrations. Today, most people use mass-produced items and live in western-style houses. The art that was embedded in handcrafted tools and hand-made homes have all but disappeared. It does remain important in ceremonial items that call on the Source of All Life and the Ancestors for their help and guidance.

Contemporary artists, both established and emerging, continue the tradition of using art to reflect their experiences and to comment on their situation in society and in the world. Their art is an important in reminder to Canadian society of the unique relationship that First Nations have with this country and with the newcomers who now inhabit it.

This exhibit brings “A Breath of Fresh Air” to both the items in the exhibit and to the people who experience them. Many of these items have been in storage for decades. As they move from the cabinets to the exhibit space, they are given a breath of fresh air. Their spirit is reawakened and their history is renewed. Once more, they can communicate with human beings and tell us their stories.

For those who experience these items, “A Breath of Fresh Air” brings them the messages from the works of art. We can understand and appreciate the variety and the depth of the traditional art and the social commentary of the contemporary art. We will be shown the place Native people once held in the world and the roles they have been relegated in our society. We will recognize and be reawakened to the spirituality infuses everything. This “Breath of Fresh Air” brings an appreciation for the past, present and continuing contributions of Native people to our world.

The exhibit team includes a Cree artist, two Euro-Canadian ethnology curators, a Vietnamese-Canadian art curator, and a graduate student from France. This eclectic mix brings complex and sometimes contradictory perspectives to the exhibit process. Through our discussions and our intense workshops viewing the collections, four themes have emerged:

• Honour and Respect
o Art used to honour all people
o Art used to honour the plants, animals and all the other beings with whom humans co-exist
• Stories
o There are many different types of storytelling: winter counts; pictographs; ledger art; motifs and clothing styles
o Objects speak on behalf of the past, through the art that is part of them
o Sometimes specific stories are recounted through hide paintings or drawings done in ledgers
o “Legends” are the ancient history of a people; these stories can be embedded in motifs used in decoration and in the styles of clothing.
• Everyday Life
o The art work on everyday clothing reminds us of the loving hands of our ancestors and the strong relationships among every family member
o This art work reminds us that everything is interconnected. Art is not separate from our daily lives. Work is not separate from art.
o Our modern life focuses more on disconnection than it does on interconnection. Contemporary art that comments on this can help us to refocus our lives and redefine our priorities.
• Spirituality
o Spirituality includes more than the sacred material
o Spirituality is to be found embedded in all experiences
o Spirituality is reflected in everything made by human hands and in all forms of art.
Glenbow’s ethnology collection includes material from First Nations throughout Canada and the western United States. In order to make this exhibit manageable we must limit our scope and, by doing so, pass up a few First Nations. This is not to say that we negate their importance. But we must give the First Nations appropriate space and exposure – and opportunity to catch their Breath of Fresh Air. Therefore, we intend to focus on:
• Dene, Cree and Anishinabe people of the Subarctic
• Cree, Anishinabe, Blackfoot, Assiniboine, Nakoda, Dakota, and Tsuu T’ina people of the Plains
• Metis people

These are the people who lived, worked, hunted, played and died here in western Canada – including Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta.

“A Breath of Fresh Air” reflects the complexity of First Nations art – the variety of expression and the variety of meanings. The curatorial team reflects the complexity of contemporary Canadian society. The dialogue that will emerge will bring a “Breath of Fresh Air” to the representation of First Nations in museums and to the discussion of the role of their arts and cultures in Canadian society.

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