Pandemic positives: The gifts of public art

· The Pulse
By Fawnda Mithrush
in the Arts Roundup
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Along with the dozens of feel-better initiatives intended to brighten COVID-laden consciences, civic enthusiasm for public art projects is burgeoning. A far cry from the historic whinging about pricy installations like the Talus Dome, COVID's forcing of outdoor play has encouraged an appreciation for a plethora of free, accessible art.

Beyond the giant humanoids that towered over the core in the winter months, and the illuminated rabbits (wâpos) that spent Easter in Beaver Hills House Park, rogue one-offs are appearing in the river valley, and smaller-scale displays are cropping up downtown, too.

Among those are this week's unveiling of Mamanaw Pekiskwewina/Mother Tongues: amiskwacîwâskahikan, a visual celebration of the ancestral languages of Treaty 6 — those being Inuktun (Inuvialakun and Inuktitut), Nêhiyawêwin (Cree), Nitsiipowahsiin (Blackfoot), Michif, Denesųłiné, Nahkawiwin, and Nakota.

Like the aforementioned wâpos installation, Mother Tongues is part of Downtown Spark and is supported by Calgary's TRUCK Contemporary Art, where curator Missy LeBlanc originally conceived the idea.

Can't see it? Take a stroll past the Saddlery Building on 104 Street, where Niitakahkayi by Lauren Crazybull appears in the storefront window. (Adam Waldron-Blain)

Can't see it? Take a stroll past the Saddlery Building on 104 Street, where Niitakahkayi by Lauren Crazybull appears in the storefront window. (Adam Waldron-Blain)

Curator Cheyenne Rain LeGrande says the exhibit will provide seven "gifts of art" in six locations, stretching from Latitude 53 to the Gibson Block to Tix on the Square, and will display a variety of word-based pieces by artists Edna Elias, Carol Powder and Cikwes, Lauren Crazybull, Maria-Margaretta, Taran Kootenhayoo, jaye simpson, and Wanahae. The pieces will be unveiled on Latitude 53's Instagram as they are installed in the coming days, and are set to stay in their current locations through September.

Crazybull's installation, Niitakahkayi (translates from Blackfoot to “I am going home”), appears in a window of the Saddlery Building on 104 Street. The piece shows photographs of Blackfoot lands printed on skateboards that are hand-dyed with beet crystals and painted with wild mint. The dialogue that appears in the overlay is translated by Lauren’s aunt, Ahstanskiaki Manyfeathers.

"I am hoping that folks who see the art will consider the land that they are on and the languages that are a part of it," says Crazybull, explaining that the piece explores ways of coming home through artmaking, skateboarding, and familial connections formed through language-learning.

Another piece by Edna Elias, Expressions of Elation, is constructed with sealskin, melton, embroidery threads, and beads, and is now on display at Alex Decoteau Park.

"We are always on the land, even when we are in the city," adds Crazybull. "There are folks whose ancestors have been caring for this land long before Edmonton or Canada existed. It is such a joy to live in Treaty 6 and be a guest on these lands. I am honoured to bring the Blackfoot language to this city for Mamanaw Pekiskwewina."