This Saturday I had the pleasure of attending the opening of a new Michelle Sound exhibition, we take care of ourselves, currently on display at Gallery 101. The reception began with a beautiful opening ceremony by Grandma Irene. All the guests participated in the traditional cleansing and cleansing ceremony, and then we all sang a song to welcome the spirits. I had never been to an event where everyone could participate in the ceremony and it was incredibly meaningful and impactful.
A Cree and Métis artist and educator, Sound pays tribute to her family with contemporary art created using traditional indigenous practices such as beadwork, caribou-tufted hairstyling and drum-making. She has been making traditional indigenous deerskin drums for 10 years, and last year she made 80 drums for different art series, exhibited across Canada. One of her earliest series of rabbit skin drums honored her grandmothers’ “kokums” of hers, while we take care of ourselves honors the indigenous mothers, sisters and women of the Sound as a whole.
“HBC Trapline” features beaver pelts and rabbit skin drums, colored in the colors of Hudson Bay. “I wouldn’t normally use these colors in my work, but I did here for the purpose of the piece, to show how during the fur trade, four beaver pelts were traded for a Hudson Bay blanket,” the artist explains. When another guest asked how Sound feels about Hudson’s Bay Company in general, he said, “It’s complicated. It is a part of history. Everybody feels differently about it.” This piece honors the work of women and their immense contribution to the fur trade.
The other two walls of the gallery feature drums in fun colors and textures, each collection representing a personal style and era very different from the other. “NDN Aunties” represents the aunts of Sound, a community of caregivers. “I remember my aunts wearing jean jackets with snaps, that was a big deal back then. “Mad Aunty“, the artist believes Joi Arcand and a friend, created the pin for the denim jacket. Skye Paul, an artist and account worker from Dene, owner of Running Fox, created the “Aunty” rose patch.
When I asked Sound where she got all these materials and textures from, she explains, “I went a lot with my son to find the typical texture of that era, like jean jackets, leather jackets, and corduroys for my piece about the 1970s. . . We were looking for items that would bring back memories of my sisters getting ready to go out, with Guns ‘N Roses playing in the background. I was 11 years younger, so I was always envious of her cool clothes and her friends. This piece honors my sisters.” Sharp zebra and leopard prints hug their respective drums tightly, with black and neon green leather fringes completing the look of “cool” style back then. Of course, the art cannot be touched, but just look how soft the rabbit fur looks!
The third wall honors Sound’s mother, who raised her at a young age. Choosing the typical “avocado green stove” colors, corduroy textures, dark green and orange tones, I definitely feel the 1970s radiating on the wall. It’s interesting to see the juxtaposition and similarities between the styles of the aunts and moms of the 70s and 90s, respectively. “It took us longer to get the materials for this piece,” shares Sound, “but I remember the bright colors of the ’70s kitchen, the earth tones, and all of us hanging out in the kitchen at home.”
I could feel the warmth of family love and community radiating from the drums on both walls. The “HBC Trapline” piece looks and feels more solemn, like a tribute. His careful arrangement of each beaver pelt under each drum also adds a stark texture, while “NDN Aunties” and “Seventies Mama” are more playfully arranged.
The inauguration ended with a closing ceremony led by Grandma Irene, where we all sang the water song together to send the spirits home. I felt honored and deeply grateful to be able to participate. Thank you Gallery 101 for having me!
we take care of ourselves is on display at Gallery 101 until May 28.