This Saturday, I had the pleasure of attending a vernissage for a new exhibition by Michelle Sound, We Take Care of Us, currently on display at Gallery 101. The reception began with a beautiful opening ceremony by Grandmother Irene. Every guest participated in the traditional cleansing smudging ceremony, and then we all sang a song to welcome in the spirits. I’ve never been to an event where everybody could participate in the ceremony and it was incredibly meaningful and impactful.
A Cree and Métis artist and educator, Sound pays homage to her family with contemporary art created with traditional Indigenous practices such as beadwork, caribou hair tufting, and drum making. She has been making traditional Indigenous deer hide drums for 10 years, and last year made 80 drums for different art series, exhibited all over Canada. One of her first rabbit fur drum series honoured her grandmothers “kokums,” while We Take Care of Us honours Sound’s mothers, sisters, and Indigenous women as a whole.
“HBC Trapline” features beaver pelts and rabbit fur drums, coloured in Hudson’s Bay colours. “I wouldn’t normally use these colours in my work but I did here for the purpose of the piece, to show how during the fur trade, four beaver pelts would be traded for one Hudson’s Bay blanket,” explains the artist. When another guest asked how Sound feels about Hudson’s Bay Company in general, she said, “It’s complicated. It’s a part of history. Everyone feels differently about it.” This piece honours women’s labour and their immense contribution to the fur trade.
The other two walls of the gallery feature drums with fun colours and textures, each collection representing a vastly different personal style and era than the other. “NDN Aunties” represents Sound’s aunties, a community of caretakers. “I remember my aunties wearing jean jackets with pins, that was such a big thing back then. “Mad Aunty“, Cree artist Joi Arcand and a friend, created the pin for the jean jacket. Skye Paul, a Dene artist and beadworker, who owns Running Fox, created the “Aunty” rose patch.”
When I asked Sound where she sourced all of these materials and textures, she explains, “I went thrifting a lot with my son to find the typical texture of that time, like jean jackets, leather jackets, and corduroy for my piece about the 1970s. We’d look for items that would bring up memories of my sisters getting ready to go out, with Guns ‘N Roses playing in the background. I was 11 years younger so I always felt envious of their cool clothes and friends. This piece honours my sisters.” Sharp zebra and leopard prints tightly hug their respective drums, with black leather fringe and neon green completing the picture of the “cool” style back then. Of course, the art cannot be touched but just look how soft the rabbit fur looks!
The third wall honours Sound’s mother, who raised her at a young age. Picking out the typical “avocado green stove” colours, corduroy textures, dark green and orange tones, I definitely feel the 1970s radiating off the wall. It’s interesting to see the juxtaposition and the similarities between the aunties’ and the moms’ styles of the 1970s and 1990s respectively. “It took us longer to source the materials for this piece,” shares Sound, “but I remember the ’70s vivid kitchen colours, earth tones, and all of us hanging out in the kitchen at home.”
I could feel the warmth of family love and community radiate off the drums on both walls. The “HBC Trapline” piece looks and feels more solemn, like a tribute. Its careful organization of each beaver pelt under each drum also adds in a rigid texture, whereas “NDN Aunties” and “Seventies Mama” are more playfully arranged.
The vernissage ended with a closing ceremony by Grandmother Irene, where we all sang the Water song together to send the spirits home. I felt humbled and deeply grateful to be able to participate. Thank you Gallery 101 for having me!
We Take Care of Us is on display at Gallery 101 until May 28.