Siksika artist's work to hang in National Gallery of Canada after Governor General's Award

An Indigenous visual and performance artist from Alberta — known for his campy persona Buffalo Boy — has won a prestigious national award.

Adrian Stimson is known for expressive paintings and campy gender-bending cowboy persona

Adrian Stimson recently moved his art studio from Saskatoon back to his childhood home on the Siksika First Nation in southern Alberta. (Evelyne Asselin/CBC)

An Indigenous visual and performance artist from Alberta — known for his campy persona Buffalo Boy — has won a prestigious national award.

Adrian Stimson of Siksika First Nation is being honoured with a 2018 Governor General's Award in visual and media arts.

Stimson paints and does performance art dealing with topics from residential schools and Indigenous resiliency after the loss of the buffalo.

"Everything about my work is about being Blackfoot and from the Siksika Nation. It shaped a lot of what I speak to in my work," Stimson told the Calgary Eyeopener on Friday morning.

We talk to local Blackfoot artist Adrian Stimson about winning the prestigious prize. 7:01

Both Stimson and his father attended residential schools, and his grandfather was a cowboy performer in the Calgary Stampede.

A graduate of Alberta College of Art and Design and the University of Saskatchewan, Stimson has a studio in his southern Alberta home. He also travels the world displaying his art and performing a two-spirited "Indian Cowboy" persona named Buffalo Boy. He's currently in Australia.

Buffalo Boy is a key fixture in Adrian Stimson's performance art.. The character is constantly shifting identities — from Pow Wow dancer to shaman to gay cowboy. (Adrian Stimson )

Buffalo Boy examines stereotypes "in a sort of comical way," Stimson said, "with cowboy boots, fishnet stockings, a buffalo G-string, buffalo corset, a pearl necklace, braids and a disco cowboy hat — so not your average cowboy."

"Growing up in Alberta, you're in and around rodeos so you have that macho history as part of growing, but also as a function of 'Indian,'" he said.

Buffalo Boy is a key fixture in Adrian Stimson's performance art and a regular at the annual Burning Man festival in Nevada. The character is constantly shifting identities — from Pow Wow dancer to shaman to gay cowboy. (Adrian Stimson )

Stimson is set apart from other artists by his unique mixing of campy comedic art with lived experience and real materials, noted Art Galley of Ontario Indigenous art curator Wanda Nanibush in the announcement of his award.

"He constantly reminds us that we are talking about living beings, communities and spiritual realms," she said. "We cannot just make up a future without attending to the past in an honest unwavering examination."

That's what makes him, she wrote, "a radical agent of change and not simply a performer of postmodern puns."

Gordon's Indian Residential School 5/6 by Adrian Stimson, made in 2013 using acrylic on wood canvas. (Adrian Stimson/Governor General’s Awards)

He has paintings on display in the British Museum, and he recently was commissioned to perform a five-day piece where he dug a trench to commemorate soldiers who fought at Vimy Ridge.

"As a performance artist, it was a real honour to be able to, on a daily basis, remember and contemplate that history," Stimson said.

Stimson's TRENCH was inspired by Mike Mountain Horse, an Indigenous First World War soldier who illustrated his battle experiences on a story robe.

The pictographs on this calfskin robe depict Corporal Mike Mountain Horse’s First World War exploits. Mountain Horse was a soldier from the Kainai (Blood) reserve in Alberta. (Esplanade Museum, Medicine Hat, Canada)

Years of making art have taught Stimson to follow what speaks to his heart, which he said he recommends others aim for, as well.

"To be able to do that is a real honour and a privilege, to be able to express and be able to share stories — and be part of a continuum of history of Blackfoot being, and bring that well in the future," Stimson said.

As part of the Governor General's Awards, Stimson's art will be on display at the National Gallery of Canada from March 29 to Aug. 5.

Siksika Nation artist Adrian Stimson, also known by his Blackfoot name Little Brown Boy Heavy Shield, stands next to his piece, Event Three, as it is unveiled at the British Museum in London. (Jared Thomas/CBC)

With files from Caroline Wagner and the Calgary Eyeopener