'It's empowering': Sask. Dene woman hopes to inspire with new art exhibit

Dene artist Catherine Blackburn’s art exhibit Tell Me the Truth is on display at the Dunlop Art Gallery in Regina's Sherwood Library branch starting Saturday.

Tell Me the Truth exhibit is on display at Regina's Sherwood Library branch starting Saturday

An artist of mixed Dene and European heritage, Catherine Blackburn's work addresses contemporary concepts and personal experiences through traditional media. (Brad Bellegarde/CBC News)

Growing up in rural Saskatchewan made it difficult for Catherine Blackburn to identify with her Indigenous roots, she says, until her artwork sparked the connection she pined for.

The Dene artist's exhibit Tell Me the Truth is on display at the Dunlop Art Gallery in Regina's Sherwood Library branch starting Saturday.

"Like much of my work, this work addresses themes of identity, of memory, of culture and attempts to address truths through a personal narrative, and perspective as an Aboriginal woman," said Blackburn, a bead artist, painter and jeweler.

The artwork is inspired by her Dene and European ancestry.

Several of Blackburn's family members went through the residential school system. Her personal experiences and relationships spurred a passion to portray Canada's colonial past through art.

Rural roots

Growing up in rural Saskatchewan was a challenge for Blackburn.

"My work started at a point of disconnect, and it was through beadwork that I found a reconnection to my culture," she said.

"To me, it was a little bit scary because I dove into something that I myself was not sure of, that I was displaced in, I guess you could say."

As an adult, she now uses her childhood memories to fuel her creativity.

"It becomes a documentation of my own feelings of loss, of resilience," she said. "It's empowering."

Blackburn, from Leask  — 80 kilometres southwest of Prince Albert — now uses beadwork, quilling and painting techniques in hopes of inspiring her audience to perceive the history and impact of colonialism in new ways.

An art mosaic

Although the exhibit contains a variety of her work, one of Blackburn's favourite pieces was created with a photo transfer technique, and features pictures of her family member's tongues.

"It's speaking to language, it's speaking to reclamation," she said. "Sovereignty over the body, and that's all in reference to the residential school system."

The exhibit is free of charge and runs until Jan. 3.

With files from CBC Radio's Saskatchewan Weekend