The Mackenzie Art Gallery celebrates Indigenous beading
- Adeoluwa Atayero | May 16, 2022
The Mackenzie Art Gallery is featuring one of the Indigenuous community’s most beloved art forms: beading.
The exhibition, titled Radical Stitch, opened on April 30 and is currently the largest exhibition of Indgienous beading presented in North America.
The exhibition features 48 artists from all over the continent whose work prove that the treasured Indigenous art form is still very much alive. Sherry Farrell Racette, one of the curators for the exhibition, says there is a plethora of diverse artists being featured there.
“We’ve got artists who brought beadwork into fine art galleries,” she said.
Racette curated the exhibition alongside Michelle LaVallee and Cathy Mattes. Many of the artists who are featured in the exhibition are well-known creators, such as Ruth Cuthand, Jamie Okuma, Teri Greeves, Katherine Boyer, Dana Claxton, and Barry Ace. The running theme of the exhibition is the value of beading as a means of letting the Indigenuous culture live on.
“We have a real range in the exhibition. We are covering art from 1978 to 2022. The two oldest pieces in the exhibition are two Innuit amautis with beaded parkas. It takes years to make those beaded amautis. They are pretty spectacular,” Racette said.
She also said that beadwork has become one of the most exciting mediums for contemporary artists. According to Racette, this is because there are two groups of artists.
“There are artists who have always beaded and have then moved to contemporary fine art, and there are people who train as artists in Indigenuous art schools and started including beadwork in their tool box,” she said.
She believes that the recent feature of Indigenuous beading at venues like The Whitney Museum of American Art and publications like Vogue Magazine have brought about a new appreciation for Indigenuous beadmaking.
Racette also said that while being highlighted by venues and publications that have been closed off to beadmakers for years is important, the Covid-19 pandemic also inspired a lot of people to revisit and begin their beadmaking journey.
“The curation for the exhibition began before Covid and the exhibition was actually postponed because of it. However, we noticed that during lockdown all these virtual beading groups started. A lot of people turned to beadwork as a way of passing the time and coping with stress. There has been an explosion at the community level of people beading again.”
The Gallery has a number of events lined up to celebrate this exhibition. Aside from the recently concluded opening, the Gallery will be hosting a day-long symposium on Saturday, June 25. The symposium will include artist-led, hands-on beading circles, workshops, panel discussions, and conversation.
For John G. Hampton, executive director and CEO at the MacKenzie, it is important to celebrate Indigenous beading as one of our generation’s most exciting movements in contemporary art.
“Rooted in cultural and territorial specificity, beadwork is of particular importance to this moment in contemporary cultural dialogues, and we are so pleased to be working with the top artists and curators in the field to realize this exhibition from diverse Indigenous perspectives.”
The exhibition will be on view in the Sim and Kenderdine Galleries at the MacKenzie Art Gallery from April 30 to August 28, 2022.