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Indigenous art exhibit makes largest Alberta homecoming

Some of the most important pieces of Indigenous art in Canada will be part of a new exhibit at the Art Gallery of Grande Prairie.

The Aunties Are Listening is made up of pieces that were rescued when the Alberta Indian Arts and Crafts Society folded in the 1990’s. At that time artist Joane Cardinal-Shubert worked to secure the collection and it has been stored at the Indigenous Arts Centre in Gatineau, Quebec even though the intent was always to return it to Alberta.

Curator Tanya Harnett says over the years some of the pieces made their way back to the province but this is largest installment since they were acquired in the 90’s. She worked with her theme to narrow the show down to key pieces she believes illustrate the unseen force of “the Aunties.”

“The Aunties are still talking to us. They’re listening. And that’s kind of important, almost scary because you go ‘yep. I have an obligation to step forward like these people have done for us in the past.’ We’re carrying the baton and we’re still strong.”

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Harnett says as you watch what is going on socially many women are stepping to positions of leadership. While the Aunties play a key role in the culture and in the exhibit Harnett said she had to make sure to include male artists that were vocal supporters of women. The show features works from George Littlechild, Kimowan Metchewais and Isaac Murdoch.

Also on display are banners from the Dakota Access Pipeline protests that began in April 2016 and ran until February 2017. Harnett, who is part of the Carry-The-Kettle First Nation in Saskatchewan, says that is personal for her as it will run through their land. She also thinks it’s an important topic to talk about in an oil and gas hub like Grande Prairie.

“I would call for not the removal of that important part of Alberta but to reflect on how we’re taking care of the water and the land. And that needs to be considered.”

Harnett says seating arranged in a circle at the centre of the gallery will allow for people to sit and think about the works. She hopes that it sparks all kinds of conversations.

“It’s a visual language and we all speak visual language. So, it is a great bridge to think about situations our community is facing.”

The Aunties Are Listening opening reception is Friday from 7:00 p.m. until 9:00 p.m. It is free and open to the public. The exhibit will run until May 30, 2018.

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