Montreal gallery strings beadwork from past to now in new exhibition

Montreal's La Guilde gallery is bringing together the work of 11 Indigenous and non-Indigenous artists who have developed their own artistic techniques around beadwork.

'We've always been contemporary,' says artist Dayna Danger

Nico William's 2015 piece Silenced no More. Antlers, leather, metal, glass beads, 65 x 35,5 x 15 cm. (Jessica Deer/CBC)

Beading on paper can be a difficult task, making sure the paper doesn't tear.

"You can't go fast," said Sylvain Rivard. "You just have to work very slowly."

But the process is something the French-Canadian and Abenaki artist enjoys, taking him back to when he learned beading techniques as a child from his grandparents. 

"My grandparents are the roots of what I'm doing, so every time I try to incorporate my grandpa or my grandma in my work," said Rivard.

"I use a lot of techniques together, a lot of old things I learned when I was a child with my grandpa, and now I'm just re-using all these techniques and am trying to give another flair to it. Something more contemporary."

Sylvain Rivard with his artwork Aux quatre coins de mes pensées. (Jessica Deer/CBC)

Rivard is one of 11 artists featured in Beading Now!, a new exhibition in Montreal exploring Indigenous and non-Indigenous artists' contemporary beadwork.

A place to exchange ideas

The exhibitions runs from May 16 to July 21 at La Guilde, a gallery and museum in downtown Montreal. Recent work of Indigenous artists Judy Anderson, Catherine Blackburn, Hannah Claus, Ruth Cuthand, Dayna Danger, Audie Murray, Mike Patten, Sylvain Rivard and Nico Williams, non-Indigenous artists Teresa Burrows and Sarah Maloney and several historical beaded items in the gallery's collection are featured in the exhibition.

Curator Karine Gaucher said the goal is to create a place where Indigenous and non-Indigenous artists can exchange thoughts and ideas.

Judy Anderson, Exploit Robe (Toying Around), 2012, (Jessica Deer/CBC)

"There is something wrong when we think, in a museum context, that ''traditional'' automatically means preservation. Beading techniques carried across generations, as showcased in this exhibition, remind us that they are still very much alive," she said.

"As for the new generation of Indigenous artists, beadwork is a way to stay connected to their heritage and pay tribute to their own culture."

Beading as resistance

Dayna Danger, a Montreal-based, queer, two-spirit, Métis/Saulteaux/Polish visual artist, hopes her work will challenge those who visit the gallery on what they think about beadwork.

Danger has two beaded BDSM fetish masks in the exhibition, as well as a collaboration with Nico Williams of two deerskin floggers with beaded handles.

Two beaded fetish masks beaded by Dayna Danger on exhibition as a part of La Guilde's Beading Now! (Jessica Deer/CBC)

"I'm just so interested the ways in which folks exchange power within BDSM play," said Danger.

"Using a fetish mask to bead on, I'm thinking about what that means in BDSM culture as a way of submitting and protecting one's self, but at the same time, there's something so beautiful wearing something that is completely covered in beads on your face."

While the exhibition focuses on contemporary beadwork, Danger said she doesn't like framing her work as "traditional versus contemporary."

Adrienne's Mask, 2017. Black leather, black nylon thread, luster and matte black beads. (Jessica Deer/CBC)

"We've always been contemporary," said Danger.

"This is a continuation of how we communicate symbols that are important to us. For me, beadwork speaks to that. It's a very basic read of what is truly a resistance. Before glass beads, we still figured out ways to embellish what we wore. Glass beads just intuitively took that on and made it a part of how we represent ourselves."


Ka’nhehsí:io Deer is a Kanien’kehá:ka journalist from Kahnawake, Que. She is currently a reporter with CBC Indigenous covering communities across Quebec.