Quilt of Belonging ( Nick Wolochaliuk)Free Public Opening Tonight: Quilt of Belonging & William Brymner: Artist, Teacher, Colleague
Thursday May 19, 8pm, Winnipeg Art Gallery until August 31
Now on view at the Winnipeg Art Gallery, the Quilt of Belonging
is a 36 metre-long collaborative textile project made up of hexagonal fibre blocks that represent Canada's 71 Aboriginal groups and 192 immigrant nationalities. For Esther Bryan, the Ontario-based artist who conceived the project and oversaw its planning and construction, the quilt embodies the belief that there's a place for everyone in the fabric of Canadian society.
From a distance, the quilt is striking, its rich jewel tones vibrating along the colour spectrum. Get up close and you can see how the individual blocks are made up of exquisite, intricate needlecraft -- lacework, embroidery, beading and appliqué.
While the end product is beautiful, the process of creating the quilt is really inspiring. In six years of crafting and six years -- and counting! -- of exhibiting all over the country, the project has involved hundreds of participants. Bryan's idea was to let immigrants tell stories about where they came from. Her own father was a Czech refugee who fled his home with not much more than his memories.
Dozens of people in Bryan's small hometown of Williamstown, Ont., pitched in, cutting and sewing, even giving the shirts off their backs if they happened to be in colours and fabrics Bryan needed. And they started doing research: According to the 2000 census, Canada has citizens who come from every country in the world. The quilters started writing letters, making phone calls, hanging around ESL classes and community centres. They even tracked down the one guy in Canada from Kiribati, a tiny island state in Oceana. Ghana, Costa Rica, Lakota, details of Quilt of Belonging (WAG
The quilters also made contact with Canada's Aboriginal, Inuit and Metis groups, whose blocks form the foundation of the quilt. Members of each First Nations and immigrant community contributed materials, ideas and often very specific requests - the Hungarians needed a background "the colour of paprika," for example -- and Bryan and her volunteers executed the overall designs.
There were some tricky issues. Yugoslavia was breaking up and the quilters had to keep increasing the number of blocks. And what to do about contested territories like Gibraltar, Cyprus, Palestine? Should Quebec get a distinct society block?
In the end, all the parts come together into a moving, beautiful whole, visually summing up Bryan's abiding belief that "everyone wants to share their stories, and everyone needs a place." Art briefs:
Also at the WAG is William Brymner: Artist, Teacher, Colleague
, a travelling exhibition that looks at the Scottish-Canadian painter (1855-1925) who had an enormous influence on the Canadian scene around the turn of the 20th century. Yes, this show is educational - 60 works by Brymner and his contemporaries track the progress of Canadian art from dry academicism to the fresh, light-filled movements of Impressionism, post-Impressionism and modernism. But it's also full of flat-out lovely pieces, from Group of Seven landscapes to haunting, psychologically searching portraits by painters of the Beaver Hall group.
And over at Urban Shaman, the show Frontrunners
starts with seven First Nations artists (Daphne Odjig, Norval Morrisseau, Eddy Cobiness, Jackson Beardy, Carl Ray, Alex Janvier and Joseph Sanchez), who formed the Professional Native Indian Artists group in 1972. Fusing traditional stories and images with the energy of modernism, these groundbreaking artists forged new forms of personal and cultural expression. Frontrunners
finishes with works by four Winnipeg-based artists working today, who honour their artistic elders while dealing with some edgy, urban, 21st-century issues. This show really bounces ideas and influences around, linking the past and the future in an interesting, urgent way. Alison Gillmor, CBC reviewer