Norval Morrisseau exhibit opens at MacKenzie Gallery Nov.13
- Julia Peterson | November 17, 2021
Miskwaabik Animiiki Power Lines: The Work of Norval Morrisseau, will open at Regina’s MacKenzie Art Gallery November 13 and run through to April 3.
Morrisseau, who died in 2007, was a leading figure of contemporary Indigenous art in Canada and founder of the Woodlands School of art.
For Felicia Gay, a Cree from Cumberland House, who curated the exhibit, exploring the narratives in Morrisseau’s work was a moving experience.
“Once I saw the work, I started to see themes within the work that are of interest to me, and I spent a lot of time researching the different pieces,” she said. “Part of my process is using story as a methodology to talk about Indigenous work through an Indigenous lens. It’s a way of transmitting knowledge through art and story. And the wonderful thing about Norval is that all his works are stories.”
Gay was particularly interested in the places where Morrisseau’s stories overlapped with the stories Gay grew up with, finding shared ground between his Anishinaabe and her Swampy Cree culture. While there were some beings and motifs she expected to see, others came as a surprise.
“Thunderbird is a pretty prevalent being within a lot of Indigenous iconography and belief systems, but what I didn’t know is that there were other things that I recognized immediately from stories from my own community in Saskatchewan,” she said. “When I curate, I always have our people in mind first as the first point to who I’m trying to reach out to. And ... I knew that if I was to bring this work, they would immediately recognize these stories.”
Gay also wanted to draw attention to Morrisseau’s portrayals of family.
“There’s one in particular that depicts a woman wearing a contemporary button-up shirt, and she’s holding a baby,” Gay said. “But what a lot of people miss is that the buttons are actually open. So it’s depicting nursing - but not overtly. And I just love that. I thought it was such a subtle, beautiful gesture.”
Though Morrisseau did not have an easy life, Gay prefers not to draw attention to his personal struggles. Instead, she focuses on his innovations as an artist.
“If you look back in history at all these different artists - like Modigliani, like Jackson Pollock - they all had these kinds of broken lives, but when they’re talked about, that’s not the first thing people talk about,” she said. “They talk about how they changed the art world.”
As the exhibit opens, Gay hopes people will experience Morrisseau’s works with a curious mind and an open heart.
“When you walk into the exhibition, there is going to be a work that speaks to you,” she said. You'll be drawn to it, because the work is very emotive.
“I remember unwrapping the work for the first time - and I've been doing exhibits of Indigenous art for a long time - and this time, opening up the work, I just felt power off it. It was tangible. There is something about his work that is really, really special.”