One of the immediate and most unfortunate casualties of the pandemic is the closing of our many art galleries and exhibitions. One such casualty was the Endurance…..Patience exhibit at the Urban Shaman Contemporary Aboriginal Art gallery.
The exhibit featured Ruth Cuthand’s visual piece “Boil Water Advisory.” The good news for Cuthand is that during her exhibit’s tenure at the gallery, she won the Governor General’s Award in Visual and Media Arts.
A renowned artist, activist, mentor, teacher and member of Little Pine First Nation, Cuthand said she was inspired to be a visual artist at a young age by professional Indigenous artist Gerald Tailfeathers.
“I remember visiting his studio and seeing all the paints, the brushes and his work,” Cuthand said.
“He had this huge studio all by himself. I think that’s what I liked most — he was by himself and just making art and I thought ‘That would be a great thing to do.’”
Her work has covered a bevy of subjects including white liberal attitudes toward Indigenous women, the 1990 Oka Crisis, Mormon-Indigenous relations in Alberta, the diseases brought to Indigenous communities by European settlers and the deplorable living conditions that many Indigenous communities are forced to live with.
Now a Governor General’s Award recipient, Cuthand feels she has had some of the national recognition she has struggled for as an Indigenous woman from the Prairies.
“It’s really hard to get the rest of Canada to notice you,” she said.
“I’ve been working at this for a long time, so I really like having that recognition of my work. It just feels great.”
The collection that changed her as a visual artist — and the most relevant to where we find ourselves today — is her “Trading” series of beaded images cataloguing the many diseases brought to the Americas by Europeans.
In fact, the “Trading” project changed the meaning of beadwork for her.
“It became an artform rather than a craft form,” Cuthand said.
“And ever since I did that, I have influenced so many young beaders into doing contemporary beadwork.”
Her “Boil Water Advisory” piece in the Endurance…..Patience exhibit was a small piece from her larger series called “Don’t Breathe, Don’t Drink” — a brilliant collection of beaded approximations of harmful bacteria and parasites frozen in resin set within a mismatched collection of glassware, including baby bottles.
“There [are] reserves [that don’t] have decent drinking water, very inadequate housing and I wanted to bring that in a very public way through an art space to people,” Cuthand said.
As for her future work, Cuthand is currently working on some beading projects related to COVID-19.
“I’m working on COVID-19 [beadwork]. People have been asking me and there’s some institutions that would like to collect it. So, yes, I’ll do it.”
For more information on Ruth Cuthand and her artwork, go to ruthcuthand.ca.