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The Works showcases Aboriginal art in outdoor festival

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By Shari Narine Sweetgrass Writer EDMONTON







Ask and you will get. That is what this year’s The Works is saying.

“We started the program for Canadian Aboriginal Arts three years ago because there were so many Aboriginals in downtown Edmonton who would come up and say, ‘Where is the Aboriginal art?’” said Dawn Saunders Dahl, manager of The Works Art & Design Festival.

The largest outdoor art festival will showcase the work of Aboriginal artists Adrian Stimson, from Siksika First Nation and David Garneau, a Métis formerly from Edmonton, along with Leah Dorion (Métis from Saskatchewan), Jackson 2Bears (Mohawk from BC) and Sonny Assu (Métis from BC).

“The outdoor festival is presenting art to the general public, to those people who might not be comfortable walking into a gallery situation,” said Saunders Dahl.
There are three venues that cover the downtown area of Edmonton. The Big Tent in Winston Churchill Square will feature Stimson, Assu and Dorion.  Dorion will also be joining 2 Bears with work featured at the Gallery at Milner in Stanley A. Milner Library, while Garneau’s work will appear at Manulife Place.

Saunders Dahl, herself an artist, is proud of the big names The Works is able to attract.

“The artists see the uniqueness (of this festival) and the ability to touch a lot more people,” she said.

Stimson’s Buffalo Boy plays with notions of identity and gender and with the real and imagined histories of Aboriginal peoples. The Works has undertaken one of the most complex museum projects in history, acquiring the many objects to be displayed in this interactive exhibition, which Buffalo Boy is certain will make a contribution to peephole understanding, material culture and universal energies. There will also be an appearance by the famed Buffalo Boy.

Garneau’s exhibition, entitled Métis/Sage plays on the words Métis (the people), mettisage (mixing) and sage (wise folk and the sacred plant). Similarly, the paintings are an eclectic mix of European and North American high art with popular art and also feature translations of Métis traditional beading into a contemporary painting style.
Assu’s work explores his mixed ancestry and how consumer culture is used to define personal heritage. He continues to push the boundaries of contemporary art by challenging the perception of “Indian art.”

Dorion’s exhibit in the Big Tent is Maskihkiy, the Cree word for medicine. Dorion feels that Métis status provides a bridge for knowledge between all people and she focuses on the spiritual strength of Aboriginal women and Aboriginality.

2 Bears envisions his work as a form of cultural critique, exploring alternative ways to engage the question of Native spirituality in today’s modern, technological society. His work typically takes the form of new media interactive installations or multimedia performances.
“There are challenges in promoting (art) in today’s culture when a lot of people don’t know who the big-name artists are,” said Saunders Dahl, but that those big-name artists pick The Works to have their art shown is “significant” for the festival.

The Works Arts & Designs Festival runs June 23 to July 5.


Photo Caption: David Garneau, whose work will be displayed at Manulife Place has a distinctive style reminiscent of comic books, pulp novels and Pop Art.