Catherine Blackburn: Narhî Wasagabiich

Narhî Wasagabiich
Catherine Blackburn

Cannon Project Wall at Hamilton Artists Inc.
Co-presented by AKA, Hamilton Artists Inc., and PAVED Arts
June 2019 – August 2020

Catherine Blackburn’s photographic installation on The Inc.’s exterior Cannon Project Wall, Narhî Wasagabiich, celebrates traditional Indigenous garment-making and adorning, practices that express women’s care for their families and communities. Reinventing beadwork techniques she learned from her loved ones, Blackburn uses contemporary plastic Perler beads to create futuristic “new world armours” that empower and protect their wearers.

Although Indigenous people do not all share a single culture or language, they do share a history of colonialism. Blackburn takes stylistic inspiration from diverse First Nations across Canada to pay homage to the matriarchal leaders from these communities. The colourful, intricate armour serves as a powerful reminder of women’s strength and resilience in the face of oppression. Narhî Wasagabiich, meaning “Strong Spirits” in the Stoney Nakoda Îyithka language, is part of a series called New Age Warriors in which Blackburn uses garment-making, beadwork, and photography to envision a future where the voices and contributions of Indigenous women, two-spirited, and non-binary persons are acknowledged and celebrated.

This installation is part of the National Billboard Exchange between Hamilton Artists Inc., AKA Artist-run and PAVED Arts in Saskatoon. The three-way collaboration also includes billboard installations by artists Meghan Price at AKA/PAVED from July to August 2019, and Janet Wang at AKA/PAVED from July to August 2020.

This exhibition is accompanied by a critical essay written by Vanessa Dion Fletcher, which can be accessed HERE.

Catherine Blackburn was born in Patuanak Saskatchewan, of Dene and European ancestry and is a member of the English River First Nation. She is a multidisciplinary artist and jeweler whose common themes are often prompted by personal narratives to explore the complexities of memory, history and identity. Her work has exhibited in notable national group exhibitions, including; Worlds on a String: Beads, Journeys, Inspirations, the renowned 2017 Bonavista Biennale, and most recently, My Sister, The Contemporary Indigenous Art Biennial 2018 in Montreal, Quebec. She has received numerous grants and awards for her work, including a Governor General History Award, the Saskatchewan RBC Emerging Artist Award, the Melissa Levin Emerging Artist Award, and most recently, she has been long-listed for the national Sobey Art Award 2019.

Vanessa Dion Fletcher is a Lenape and Potawatomi neurodiverse artist. She has writen for publications including Art In America, and the Canadian Journal of Disability Studies. Dion Fletcher graduated from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 2016 with an MFA. In the fall of 2020 Vanessa is a Jackman Humanity institute Artist-in-residence.

About our partners:

AKA Artist-run is a non-profit artist-run centre, run by a board of Saskatoon-based artists and cultural workers. Funded by the federal, provincial, and municipal governments, AKA pays fees to artists to support the research, creation, and exhibition of visual art work. A centre for emergent practices for artists at any stage of their careers, AKA provides space and support for critical, safe, and open exchange and is committed to creating space for experimentation, artist-led research, and self-determined direction. AKA aims to build connections between artists, local communities, and national and international audiences, posing questions without knowing the answers.

PAVED Arts is a non-profit, artist-run production centre and gallery that exists to advance knowledge and practices in what we call the PAVED Arts; Photography, Audio, Video, Electronic and Digital. In other words, we help artists and independent producers make and exhibit their work.

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