Canadian Siksika nation artist's work to be displayed at British Museum

Visitors to the world-famous British Museum in London will soon be able to look at two paintings by a visual artist from the Siksika nation in Alberta who goes by the Blackfoot name of Little Brown Boy Heavy Shield.

Collection adds 2nd painting by Alberta First Nations man going by name Little Brown Boy Heavy Shield

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)

Visitors to the world-famous British Museum in London will soon be able to look at two paintings by a visual artist from the Siksika nation in Alberta who goes by the Blackfoot name of Little Brown Boy Heavy Shield.

He's also known as Adrian Stimson.

Stimson's agent has donated his work, Event Three, a piece which features a bison juxtaposed with soaring modern grain elevators that pepper the Prairies.

The British Museum purchased another painting from Adrian Stimson's series, Event Two, last November. (Adrian Stimson )

It will join another piece by Stimson the Museum bought earlier this fall. Event Two shows a mother and baby bison frolicking in the snow, an oil derrick in the background.

The first of the series, Event One, is in a private collection. It shows a bison as well, an oil pipeline running through the scenery in the background.

If you're sensing a theme, you're on the right track.

"It's a series of paintings I did in response to sort of the history of resource extraction, the effect that has on Indigenous populations, in particular here on the Plains," Stimson said.

Adrian Stimson says he tries to reflect the history of his Blackfoot Nation through his artwork. (Dave Rae/CBC )

For the artist, that juxtaposition of the bison, which has great meaning to his Blackfoot nation, and modern industry is social commentary.

"[The bison] was our source of everything, you know, spiritual, food, shelter, you name it. It was everything to us," Stimson said.

The museum acquired Event Two for £600 ($995 Cdn) from Stimson in November.

Art agent Calvin Redlick revealed Event Three in London to a small gathering in mid-December, with Stimson also present.

"I bought the painting originally from Adrian two years ago," Redlick said.

History through art

Stimson has also drawn on other aspects of Blackfoot history, some personally painful ones, for his art.

Both he and his father attended residential school in their youth.

That informs one of his installations, Sick and Tired, a piece that comprised a rusty old bed topped by what looks like a bison's hide, glittering in the sunlight shooting through a couple of windows.

This installation, Sick and Tired, makes use of an old bed Adrian Stimson found near a residential school. (Adrian Stimson )

"We live up the hill from the old residential school where my family went," Stimson explained, and that was where he found the bed.

"Not to make it a cliché," he added," but [art] has been a healing process. I've always found art to be that saviour to me for me to be able to express myself in a way that sometimes words can't."

A relationship of mutual respect

Stimson acknowledged collections of First Nations artifacts in major museums are somewhat controversial in part because of how some were appropriated by colonial powers, but he said his own Blackfoot nation gets along just fine with the British Museum.

"They've invited us over many times to review the collection, provide advice on the collection, repatriation is something we'd be discussing," he said.

In London, there is not just enthusiasm for his work, but also an acknowledgement that it fills a cultural gap.

The British Museum's curator for the Americas, Amber Lincoln, says showing Adrian Stimson's work there provides a chance for Europeans to familiarize themselves with indigenous art. (Jared Thomas/CBC )

"Because we're in Britain, it's not like being in North America where your neighbours are First Nations, or you see them on television, or you see art made by them," said Amber Lincoln, the British Museum's Americas curator. "People in Europe don't necessarily have that experience. They don't necessarily have that history that includes Indigenous First Nations history."

For Stimson, too, the occasion means something. Amid the celebrations of Event Three's unveiling in England, he briefly let it show.

"To be here with my ancestral material, I just am reminded of the people back home and how very, how very proud I am to be a part of that," he said, his voice faltering just slightly.