November 21, 2020
the art of reciprocity
By Ricardo Castillo Argüello
Over the summer, about 12 urban Indigenous young women from the Stardale Women’s Group program came to the Kiyooka Ohe Arts Centre to get away from the city and find inspiration with Art-in-Nature.
Elder Wanda Fast Rider emphasizes gratitude and honour for the land at the start of one of several sessions at the Kiyooka Ohe Arts Centre
With sweet-sounding names – Anna Red Crow, Tiyanna Little Pine, or the Wayner sisters, Summer, Autumn and Destiny – they came out in groups to the woods of Springbank for two weeks of art workshops with KOAC founder Katie Ohe, and artists Patricia Lortie and James Ziegler. Accompanied by their volunteer minders from the Stardale Women’s Group, to which all 12 young women belong, they observed and followed KOAC artists in the use of art to bridge their relationship with the land. “Perhaps art can be a tool for you to create your own connection,” pondered Katie Ohe. “From my experience as a farm child, I know creativity turns limitation into abundance. So, art might be a way to help us understand our perspective and place in regard to the land.”
art can be a tool to connect to the land and understand our perspective and place
Patricia Lortie’s clay mask-building session stemmed from her working with natural materials and allowing her surroundings to spark explorations. In one of several activities, she guided the group into the forest to forge faces on trees. She wanted to show them that in Nature, form follows function and that the artist working in Nature learns to follow form. “It is about learning that making art with natural materials involves a certain flexibility to know what resources you have available to you and how you can use them,” she said.
For James Ziegler, this workshop was an opportunity to explore the art of reciprocity with Nature and learning to pay attention to how Nature speaks to us. He provided the group with multi-coloured pieces of his laser-cut tiny art, which they first manipulated to different shapes and then had them placed in settings of their choosing afterwards. “It all starts with observation. How does this place breathe? If we want to feel it let us notice how the shadows move or what colours jump out from the little sculptures or forms when the sun is harsh and low on the horizon,” he said.
Patricia passing on her skilled practice with natural resources
Learning that in Nature form follows function
There is no doubt that both students and teachers experienced the power of observation and worked on their ability to filter through the natural chaos for patterns. Such learning was reinforced every day by the words of elder Wanda Fast Rider at the start of each session’s with a talking circle. Their participation in these workshops, she told the group, must be understood as an act of gratitude and honour for the land.
Helen McPhadden, the executive director and one of the co-founders of Stardale, explained that every meeting starts with a circle that symbolizes completeness and equality. “It is a way to learn to listen to and support each other with respect,” she said.
The art of reciprocity starts by learning to pay attention to how nature speaks to us
Stardale is a grassroots charity formed in the late 1990s. It has been successfully addressing many of the complex issues that affect urban Indigenous girls living in poverty by providing them with life skills and literacy. As Helen described, many of the girls stay with Stardale for several years, literally reaching young adulthood through the program. Stardale has been recognized for its achievements, most recently this Fall with the Best Short Documentary Film award at the Montreal Independent Film Festival for their in-house production The Road.
In their last session at KOAC, Dr. Linda Many Guns, Chair of Native American Studies at the University of Lethbridge, summed it all up with an intervention on the land’s meaning for First Nations peoples. “We are not an anonymous little existence on the landscape. We need to build familiarity and responsibility to the land because she loves us back every time we harvest,” she said. “She gives us back food, beans, corn, and strawberries. But more importantly, we must learn how to show our love for our land, and recognize Nature’s complexity, which is our need for the Earth and the Earth’s need for us.”
Stardale girls at the Kiyooka Ohe Arts Centre and Sculpture Park
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The Kiyooka Ohe Arts Centre is a place for art and artists, for the curious, for the novice and for the expert alike – everyone is welcome to visit, to make, to learn and to talk about contemporary art, whether by traversing our sculpture grounds and gardens, or visiting (when appropriate) with our artists in studio or via our digital forums and workshops.
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