Sask. artist draws on Ukrainian and Metis heritage for Hicks Gallery exhibit

Melanie Monique Rose noticed plenty of similarities between the designs, patterns, and colours used by her Ukrainian and Metis ancestors, and those similarities formed the basis of an exhibit that’s travelled the province for three years.

‘The Flower People’ contains felted pieces combined with a collection of blankets to explore Ukrainian and Metis culture. The exhibit opened at the Saskatchewan Arts Council Gallery in Saskatoon, but is currently on display at the John V. Hicks Gallery in Prince Albert.

“It’s such a good feeling,” Rose said when asked about having her exhibit travel the province.

“I really like to share my experiences as both a Metis and Ukrainian woman—my lived experiences as well as those of my family and my ancestors.”

Rose describes herself as a visual artist who uses floral imagery to tell stories about people, places, and the land they live on. She designed the exhibit with the goal of getting viewers to ask questions about their own backgrounds, whether they have Metis and Ukrainian ancestors or not.

She said some people in Saskatchewan still struggle with racist attitudes. She’s hopeful the exhibit can help those people see their neighbours in a different light.

“If we’re all honest we can admit we have a lot of work to do here in Saskatchewan with racism, and stereotypes with the way many folks look at and treat Indigenous folks,” she explained. “I just think that it’s through sharing our story—especially with children—that’s how we break down some of those stereotypes and become more anti-racist.”

“Part of our collective healing process is understanding where we came from, and why did we leave,” she added. “If we’re a newcomer or settler, why did we come here to this land that we’re currently calling Canada? I think that makes us understand our Indigenous relatives more, as well as have a more sustainable relationship with the land as far as how we’re treating the plants and animals and having a sustainable future for seven generations ahead.”

Rose’s work places an emphasis on colour, movement, and narrative. She said both Ukrainian and Metis designers make good use of colour to tell stories, and also have strong floral imagery. She’s factor both of those things into her exhibit.

She credits painter Christi Belcourt as her biggest influence. Viewing Belcourt’s work inspired Rose to look to her own traditions for this exhibit.

Her exhibit also has a strong Saskatchewan component. Local flowers like Crocuses, Black-eyed Susans, and Saskatchewan Wild Roses all make an appearance in her designs.

Rose got the title of the exhibit from ‘The Flower Beadwork People’, a name traditionally given to the Metis, who are well known for their floral beadwork. She said it’s not easy to find art from Metis artists in Canadian collections, so she’s hoping this exhibit will help generate more interest in Metis designs and creations.

“Our stories are very underrepresented,” she said. “I just hope that really encourages people to want to learn more.”

‘The Flower People’ runs at the John V. Hicks Gallery in Prince Albert until Tuesday, Jan. 23.