New WAG-Qaumajuq exhibit pays homage to the creation of Manitoba and the role of the Red River Métis in its founding
Without pandemic restrictions, a new art exhibition at the Winnipeg Art Gallery-Qaumajuq might not be what it is today.
Kwaata-nihtaawakihk – A difficult birth was postponed for about two years due to the pandemic, but the project’s curators and one of its artists said they benefited from the extra time. It was originally scheduled to open in 2020 to commemorate Manitoba’s 150th anniversary, but public health restrictions delayed it.
Intended to highlight Manitoba’s history and its creation, the exhibition will feature works of art and other significant pieces by Métis, First Nations and non-Indigenous artists and contributors.
Jennine Krauchi, a renowned Métis pearl artist, says she was grateful for the additional two years to work on a 1.5 meter by two meter beaded picture frame that will surround a prominent photo of the interim government of Métis leader Louis Riel.
“If COVID hadn’t happened then…the picture frame wouldn’t have been what it is,” Krauchi said.
Aspects of the piece came to her at various times over the past two years, she said, which made a difference in the end result – things like ideas for the border and the beaded corners on the framework.
After years of working on the piece, Krauchi says she’s proud it’s finally finished.
“I think it was one of the hardest pieces I’ve done,” she said. “It was so close to…the man, Riel, and his interim government and it was for this photo.
“It was really difficult, but it was really rewarding.”
The photo of Riel and his advisers was taken in 1870, just as Manitoba joined Confederation. At the time, the Métis were promised over a million acres of land, which they never received.
Riel would be hanged for treason for his actions as a Métis resistance leader. Since then, the Métis have continued to be displaced, with right-of-way communities built away from Red River settlements.
The curators are also grateful for the extra time
Guest curator Sherry Farrell Racette, a member of the Timiskaming First Nation in Quebec, says the delays have given the exhibit more time to develop.
“We…felt a little more empowered to tell a bigger story,” said Racette, who is an associate professor of visual arts at the University of Regina.
One of the highlights of the exhibition is the story of a young woman involved in the opposition to the provisional government.
“It’s not all heroic and celebratory,” said Racette, who identifies as Métis, Algonquin and Irish. “The [were] all kinds of tensions, it was very tense. We didn’t want to just replicate, yet again, another version of that story.”
The exhibition can be seen as a dialogue between the forces of colonization and the forces of resilience and resistance, said co-curator Cathy Mattes. Although this is not a chronological museum exhibit, the whole story is there.
“It’s really great visual engagement with the story of Manitoba’s founding and its aftermath, and very well presented with a Métis lens,” said Mattes, who is Métis from Manitoba’s Red River and associate professor of history of art at the University. of Winnipeg.
Mattes says audiences can expect to see a focus on families in the exhibit, and its approach will be very cross-generational.
The Michif name Kwaata-nihtaawakihk was donated to the exhibit by Métis elder Verna DeMontigny.
The exhibition opens on March 19 and will run until September 3. Admission is free for the opening celebration, which begins at 7 p.m.