Elly on the Arts: Recalling former ‘Flonners and a new photo exhibition

Long time Flin Flon and Denare Beach resident Sarah Trevor has a story to tell - three of them actually, about the life journey she and her husband Buz took with their two children, Adam and George, took to get here. The Trevor family arrived in Flin Flon in 1980 from the African country of Botswana in the winter. They threw themselves into life in Flin Flon with both their paid work and their volunteer time. Sarah is a visual artist of some repute and, with Karen Clark, was instrumental in founding the NorVA Centre and Gallery. Husband Buz was an energetic member of the Ham Sandwich theatre group and performed on stage many, many times. Sarah worked in the school system as the librarian as well.

After their retirement, they moved to Saskatoon to be close to a major airport for all the traveling they do - to Mazatlan, Mexico, as well as to Prince Edward Island to visit son George (a former teacher in Flin Flon) and his family. Our loss, sadly.

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Sarah has not stopped her artistic pursuits, however. Since moving, she has written and published three children’s books. Can’t Catch Me!, a counting book featuring the animals and plants of southern Africa in photographs taken by the author; A Beaver Tale, where beavers Castor99 and 4Castor of Beaver Clan 17 of Amisk Lake prepare to build a new dam, featuring photographs of the Amisk Lake area, likely taken by the author from her kayak; and The Boy Who Changed His Name, a story of immigration from Botswana to Canada. This last book tells the story of Tom, who became Curious George (like the famous monkey) in his new home.

They are remarkably sweet books with many photographs to enjoy and are available for sale at the Flin Flon Centennial Library, just in time for Christmas gifts for a special kid in your life.

NorVA has an amazing show currently in the Gallery, New Age Warriors by Catherine Blackburn. Where to start to describe its impact - with the artist, the show or the lessons learned and yet to be taught?

Let’s start with the artist. Catherine Blackburn was born in 1984 in Île-à-la-Crosse, Sask. and grew up in Choiceland, Sask., approximately 300 kilometres from Flin Flon. She is of Dene and European ancestry and a member of the English River First Nation in northeast Saskatchewan. She studied at the Univ. of Saskatchewan, obtaining her bachelors of fine arts in 2007. She works primarily in beading, painting, jewelry and photography to address Canada’s colonial past, informed by personal and family narratives. From her biography, “...she is inspired to express her own feelings and experiences that speak to the complexities of memory, history and identity. Her art merges contemporary concepts with elements of traditional Dene culture that create dialogue between traditional art forms and new interpretations of them.”

Blackburn has been featured in several important exhibitions such as the Bonavista Biennale - one of only 26 Canadian artists - and the Contemporary Indigenous Art Biennial La Biennale d’Arte Contemporain Autochtone (BACA) in Montreal. She has received prestigious awards and grants for her work, which include a Governor General’s History Award and the Elizabeth Greenshields Foundation grant. She is affiliated with impressive galleries like the Art Gallery of Ontario, the Remai Modern in Saskatoon and Slate Gallery in Regina, as well as collectives in Victoria and Los Angeles.

As for the show, it is visually beautiful in its scope. Even though NorVA’s gallery space is small by Winnipeg Art Gallery standards, the exhibition is powerful in impact when visitors come through the door. The limitations of social distancing play into this impact, in that there is the sense that one is alone to feel the colour and the beauty of the show and then to contemplate what it means.

The show is big. There are enormous photographs on the walls of Indigenous women Warriors wearing traditional “armour”, drawn from the female clothing of different nations, designed to bring attention to the diversity of Canada’s Indigenous women. The armour itself is also on display, on body forms throughout the space. Breastplates and back pieces, headdresses and chokers beaded in traditional floral or geometric designs but with contemporary and futuristic insertions, like the fact that all the beadwork is plastic perler beads ironed together. This is a commentary on both consumerism and ingenuity and adaptation skills of indigenous women.

The lessons? According to the exhibition statement that accompanies the show, New Age Warriors is “...a celebration of the strength, resilience and ingenuity of [the artist's] ancestors and the women in her life today.” Blackburn has written curriculum links for high school students to explore the exhibit from their learning perspectives. Many of the pieces in the show incorporate words, Dene and Cree syllabics and American Sign Language to remind that loss of language has been so destructive to Indigenous peoples in Canada. Blackburn emphasizes matriarchy throughout the exhibition as a positive force that creates “environments of love and support in Indigenous heritage.”

Do not miss this show - it is spectacular. You still have a few days to bid on your favorite piece from the Square Foot Auction as well. Final bids will be received on Oct. 25.

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