An art exhibition spanning 10,000 square feet and featuring everything from live tattooing to BDSM beadwork opens tonight, the culmination of two years of work.

On Friday, the Winnipeg Art Gallery will unveil Insurgence/Resurgence, the largest and most ambitious exhibition of contemporary Indigenous art in its history.

Co-curators Julie Nagam and Jaimie Isaac have selected work from 29 artists across Canada, including 12 new commissions and four debuts.

"So from tattoo to tufting to beading to video installation, sculpture, sound installations, sculpture, light installations — we really wanted to cover as many different disciplines that are being created today," said Isaac. "I think to really challenge some of the stereotypes that people have of Indigenous people, Indigenous politics, Indigenous culture and Indigenous arts."

The exhibition is both indoors and out, with a massive mural by Kenneth Lavallee on the WAG's facade.

In Eckhardt Hall (essentially the WAG's entrance), massive clouds hang from the ceiling, a sculptural piece by Hannah Claus inspired by the concept of the sky world.

Below them sits a large painting from Manitoba-born artist Kent Monkman's Urban Res series.

Even the stairs are a part of the sprawling exhibition, with Plains Cree written on each step, part of a multi-piece language-based work by Joi Arcand.

Reclaiming space

"We were really interested in reclaiming and taking up space, and Joi was really excited to think about how that would impact each person walking in and out of the gallery," said Nagam.

Isaac said for decades, Indigenous artists have been relegated to showing in museum spaces rather than contemporary art spaces.

"It took some really fantastic Indigenous curators and artists to really push those boundaries and assert their space within these kinds of institutions," said Isaac. "The political insurgency and the cultural resurgence you'll see in this show goes across the board, really thinking about what's happening in politics right now, what's happening with the environment, land politics and cultural and language politics."

Dayna Danger's work includes three black, beaded masks set in front of an orange wall.

"It's the first time we're sort of seeing leather and beading being done in sort of an S and M kind of theme," said Nagam. "She's playing with ideas of gender, two-spirited, queerness. She's thinking a lot about body and representation."

Live tattooing

The WAG has planned months of programming around different parts of the exhibition. On opening weekend, that includes live inking from Earthline Tattoo Collective. 

"[They're] creating and rethinking and trying to revive traditional tattoo methods by hand-stick and hand-poking," said Nagam. "We basically did everything different that people aren't used to having happen."

That also included using Indigenous curatorial practices, specifically around collaboration and coming up with new models for presenting art that challenge existing Western practices. 

"This space is for you," said Isaac. "It's for everyone, and your interpretations of the artwork is as important as the curators or the artists making it."

Insurgence/Resurgence runs until April 2018.

Insurgence/Resurgence

Go see Insurgence/Resurgence opening night for free or any time during regular Winnipeg Art Gallery hours until April. (CBC)