A Prince Albert arts project spearheaded by sculptor Cheryl L. Ring is about to get some international exposure.
‘MMIWG — Heart Spirits’ will open at the Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport International Airport on Feb. 1. The exhibit features 200 of the 1,200 clay hearts created by Ring and other Prince Albert residents in honour of bring attention to the large number of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.
Ring said she was shocked, but excited, to hear the news from gallery curators.
“I sat for a few minutes before I even told anybody (or) texted my family,” Ring said by phone on Monday. “My jaw dropped and I just had to process it for a while on my own. It was a really surreal moment.”
Ring created the exhibit in 2019 with the help of participants from Carlton and St. Mary high schools, elementary schools, and local businesses. The group created so many clay hearts Ring wasn’t sure how they would ever be displayed.
She submitted a proposal to the airport after seeing a call for submissions, thinking an airport exhibit would attract viewers who normally wouldn’t visit a gallery. Ring said it was exciting just to hear that the exhibit was under consideration. At the time, she wasn’t expecting anything more.
“I got a little excited,” she remembered. “I thought, ‘well, that’s cool,’ but I didn’t get my hopes up. I thought, ‘it’s better to just go along and not get too excited.’”
Ring’s patience was rewarded in August 2021, when gallery officials told her the project had been accepted. The only problem was the lack of space. Curators said they had space for only 200 of the 1,200 clay hearts. Ring told them that should be enough to have the proper impact.
Although the exhibit honours Canadian Indigenous women and girls, Ring said it’s not just a Canadian problem. The issue is also a concern in the United States, where a 2016 study from the National Institute of Justice estimated roughly 1.5-million Native American women have experienced violence, including sexual abuse.
Ring said she hopes the exhibit can give a voice to those women, and show visitors the story behind the MMIWG.
“I really would like people to hear those names and know that the issue is bigger than the acronym that is attached to it, that within the acronym there are people and families and pain, and to be aware of how big this issue is and how painful it is,” she explained.
While Ring had many collaborators, none were more important than local elder Liz Settee, who provided the exhibit’s audio track. While attendees look at the clay hearts, they’ll hear Settee’s voice reading the names of Indigenous women and girls who have been murdered or gone missing—including some from the Prince Albert area.
Ring said she was grateful and proud that Settee so willingly and openheartedly offered her assistance.
“She really understood my passion, and of course she understands the wider context of the project and how it’s really impacted Indigenous people all across Canada,” Ring explained. “Liz is so rooted in our community and it is absolutely my honour to have worked with her and to have had her guide me. It made me really proud that I had Liz Settee on board.”
The exhibit runs from Feb. 1, 2022 to Feb. 2, 2023 in Gallery H10 in Terminal 2 of the Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport.