A Celebration of community

Catherine Blackburn poses by one of her beaded articles and the photo it was used as she worked with gallery staff to hang her latest show Monday. The show opens Friday. (Peter Lozinski/Daily Herald)

Catherine Blackburn’s new show, New Age Warriors, blends the modern with the traditional to show what it means to be a contemporary, Indigenous woman

Catherine Blackburn’s newest show is about to open in the artistic space where her career first began to take off.

Blackburn was born in Ile-a-la-Crosse but is from Patuanak, Sask., about an hour north of Beauval. She is of Dene and European ancestry and is a member of English River First Nation. According to her biography, she works in beading, painting and jewelry to address the nation’s colonial past, prompted by personal narratives. A member of the Indigenous Peoples’ Artist Collective, Blackburn

Blackburn, an Indigenous artist showed her first pieces at the Winter Festival Show and Sale about five years ago. Now, her work is embarking on a province-wide tour until 2020 — first stop, the Mann Art Gallery.

“Prince Albert and especially the Mann Art Gallery have been huge supporters ever since I started my career (about) five years ago. They recognized something in me, and from there it has been continual support from them,” Blackburn said.

“I’m elated the show is opening here with the support of the gallery and the larger community.”

Blackburn isn’t the only one happy the show’s first stop is here in P.A. Gallery Curator (and show curator) Jesse Campbell is also pleased to see the body of work make its debut.

“It’s part of our mandate to nurture artists in this community, especially emerging artists — though I feel Catherine is definitely shifting to professional,” Campbell said.

This show came out of a studio tour Campbell had with Blackburn two years ago. Blackburn was explaining how she wanted to use plastic Perler beads, instead of the traditional glass, to make warrior gear and represent many nations across North America.

“It’s been a long journey,” Campbell said. “It takes a long time, a lot of planning and perseverance.”

The show, New Age Warriors, draws heavily on Blackburn’s Indigenous identity. However, unlike some of her previous work, it isn’t focused as much on colonial ills, but on celebrating an honouring Indigenous women.

The show features both beaded garment-wear and photos of inspirational women from Blackburn’s life wearing the beaded pieces on a variety of backdrops. It was created in collaboration with a variety of other Indigenous artists and designers; some of whom created the patterns and designs Blackburn beaded, some of whom created jewelry and accessories for her models to wear in the photos, and the photographer herself, Tenille Campbell, a close personal friend of Blackburn.

“A lot of the models I’ve used in this work will be attending the opening, and one of my goals with the opening itself was to really have the sense of celebration within the space,” Blackburn said.

“It’s in the theme of celebrating and honouring, so to have those women here and celebrating that work with me … will be overwhelming and beautiful.”

Blackburn said that celebration will be of people, culture and strength.

“This work really speaks to — and I don’t like using this word because I think it’s sometimes overused — resilience, and moreso, survival,” she said.

“This reality that we are here, we are living, we are breathing, we are contemporary Indigenous people. So often I think our stories and our realities are retold in a way that isn’t authentic, and it’s about reclaiming that space and forming that space, not just for us now but for future generations.”

Having the subjects of the photos in attendance just adds to that feeling, Jesse Campbell said.

“I think it’s special and profound, and totally embodies what Catherine’s practice is about,” she said.

“It’s about sharing a strong family bond, a strong bond of sisterhood, knowing that people are stronger together than apart, especially when we support each other. The fact that the faces e see in a lot of the work will be here will be really moving for many of the subjects.”


Work melds traditional with contemporary


The works themselves, both in material and style, blend the traditional with the modern. That blending, and the choice of plastic beads as a material is a very deliberate choice by Blackburn.

“I really wanted to play with the idea of, not necessarily contemporary versus traditional, but fusing the two,” she said.

“One of the reasons I used plastic to create this garment wear was to speak to a contemporary presence, but also to comment on adaptability and innovation in First Nations cultures. It’s always been there, that utilitarian way in which we depend on the land, and how the land has really reinforced who we are and our identity. “

The use of plastic serves as a commentary on the mass consumption of plastic product waste while speaking to Indigenous peoples ability to adapt and live in sync with the land. It also reinforces the idea of contemporary Indigenous presence and design. By blending the tradition of garment making and beading, but by using newer materials and designs, Blackburn blends the modern with the traditional.

That blending of traditional vs. contemporary is also reflective of where Blackburn sees this show fall in her own, personal journey of discovery.

“I’ve explored my culture, I’ve explored my identity and my roots,” she said.

“I’m still exploring that, but I’m at a point in my own life where it’s celebrating. It’s not so much the exploring of who I am, it’s celebrating who we are now, and how these communities sometimes form and don’t get that recognition in the contemporary sense.

“Some of these women in these photos are family or friends, and they are using their voice to forge paths, in whatever capacity that is.”

New Age Warriors runs from until October 25. The opening reception will be held Friday at 7 p.m.