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Largest contemporary Indigenous beading exhibit in North America comes to Hamilton

CBC News | February 10, 2023

Categories: news

Indigenous co-curator says exhibition shows 'not only are we surviving, we're thriving'

Bobby Hristova · CBC News · Posted: Feb 10, 2023 11:12 AM EST | Last Updated: February 10

A beaded bag
Radical Stitch will be in Hamilton from Feb. 11 to May 28. (Bobby Hristova/CBC)

The Art Gallery of Hamilton (AGH) will debut a new contemporary Indigenous beadwork exhibition that organizers call the largest North America has ever seen.

Radical Stitch, originally from The MacKenzie Art Gallery in Regina, Sask., brings together works from 35 contemporary Indigenous beaders. It will stay in Hamilton from Feb. 11 to May 28 and the opening weekend has free admission.

The curators are Sherry Farrell Racette, who is Métis, Algonquin and a member of Timiskaming First Nation in Quebec; Cathy Mattes, who is southwestern Michif in Manitoba; and Michelle LaVallee, who is Anishinaabe, Ojibwe and a member of the Neyashiingamiing Chippewas of Nawash Unceded First Nation in Cape Croker, Ont.

The name Radical Stitch comes from the idea that surviving as an Indigenous person is a "radical act" and the themes displayed in the exhibition show a "radical love."

"We wanted this space to be full of laughter and joy and tears," Farrell Racette said in an interview Thursday at the AGH, as the team prepared final touches before Friday's opening. All three curators were in Hamilton this week to see the work come to life.

People looking at art.
Curators Cathy Mattes, Sherry Farrell Racette and Michelle LaVallee said they hope the exhibition will inspire visitors. (Bobby Hristova/CBC)

The work to create the exhibition started in 2019 and was mostly organized through text messages, according to the curators. They considered over 100 artists for the exhibit before narrowing down the list. The final pieces are from artists as far as New Mexico and as close as Six Nations of the Grand River.

The colours from the exhibits jump out off the walls and out of the glass cases. There's something for all ages, the curators say.

Many of the artworks are also connected to each other and explore a range of emotions from whimsical Lego-like figurines, to glow-in-the-dark brain scans to memorials, responses to social issues and fashion pieces.

Beaded, glowing bran scans
Ruth Cuthand's work shows glowing beaded brain scans of mania, anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder and depression. (Bobby Hristova/CBC)

There's also an open section called The Beading Room meant for people to have conversations and reflect on the work.

Guest beaders will also be at the exhibition to share their traditional beading techniques, according to AGH.

The curators hope to inspire people to start beading and raising awareness of beading as a fine art, rather than just seeing it as a craft or hobby.

LaVallee summarizes how she hopes visitors will feel in three words — awe, inspiration and appreciation.

An art sculpture.
The Hamilton Art Gallery is hosting the largest contemporary Indigenous beading exhibitions in North America. It opens on Friday at 4 p.m. (Bobby Hristova/CBC)

Mattes said beading is a continuation of ancestor artists who experimented with the artform and learned from mentors.

"I see the work as offerings. My hope is people come in and receive the offerings the artists are giving us," she said.

Farrell Racette said beading has been around for centuries and used to be made from shell and fruit seeds before glass and other materials were introduced. Beads have also been expensive and hard to get, she said.

"All the things involved with beading, the thread and the surface is ... a living material you're working with," Farrell Racette said.

Beaded figurines.
Alesia and Farlan Quetawki's work are seed bead versions of Avenger Black Widow, Batman, Hawkeye Minion, Black Panther and Hulk Minion. (Bobby Hristova/CBC)

Farrell Racette also said people are reclaiming bead work and said the exhibition itself is an act of sovereignty.

"People didn't expect us to thrive and this exhibition shows not only are we surviving, we're thriving," she said.

"This is literally just the tip of the iceberg."

Beaded artwork.
The work to create the exhibition started in 2019 and was mostly organized through text messages, according to the curators. (Bobby Hristova/CBC)

The AGH is also hosting an exhibition by Omaskêko Cree artist Duane Linklater, which focuses on the former Shingwauk Residential School in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont.

Part of the institution was built by the kids forced to attend the school, said Melissa Bennett, AGH's senior curator of contemporary art.

She said Linklater's exhibition is meant to serve as "a moment for pause" in comparison to the beadwork shown in adjacent rooms. 

That exhibition is open from Feb. 11 to May 22.

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