Gallery 1C03’s SHARDS is an active conversation between history and the present. Curated by Jenny Western, the show pairs new works by four Indigenous women artists with the remnants of millennia-old Indigenous ceramics.
The fragments, from the archaeological collections of the Manitoba Museum and the University of Winnipeg, were once clay cooking vessels made by women and used to feed their families. The central metaphor of the exhibit is obvious: like these traditional vessels, Indigenous culture and tradition have been fractured over time by colonialism.
The overtness of that metaphor never hurts the show, because the metaphor isn’t the whole point of the work. It’s a jumping-off point for larger conversations about tradition, motherhood, intergenerational trauma and reconciliation.
What SHARDS says about reconciliation is framed around damaged history and resonates deeply and painfully. Many of the historical ceramics have been beautifully reconstructed, but are still clearly reconstructions. This explores the reality that reconciliation can’t and won’t be about the erasure of past trauma – this would be as impossible as restoring these ancient urns to their original state.
SHARDS emphasizes reconstruction, rediscovery and using the knowledge of the past to strengthen the present.
Nowhere is that fraught interplay more evident than in KC Adams’ installation piece nipêkopanin ê-kîwêyân (i awaken as i come home). Within a circle of stones sit an array of traditional pots. Scattered between them are the remnants of extinguished fires.
Closer inspection of the installation reveals layer upon layer of further meaning to the piece: embers still glow in the firewood, and symbols have been drawn in the ashes. From inside one of the pots, light emits. It’s a video of a water gathering, from which women and men can be heard singing in Ojibway about the collective process of making the pots.
The way closer inspection reveals new wrinkles and meaning is itself a conversation with the historical artifacts. A careful look at the fragmented pots reveal truths about their creators.
Smudged fingerprints and the imprints of ropes that were used in their construction are embedded in the clay. While this provides a window into the human lives of the ancient women who built them, it also emphasizes that these were both works of art and practical tools for daily life. It’s a philosophical statement about the utility of the show itself and the efficacy of art as a tool for reconciliation.
Niki Little’s Embed further pulls at these threads. In this piece, traditional woven bags used to shape clay pots house images of the artist and her daughter. Their tender embrace inside these symbolic items provides a tangible example of why these traditions and the healing they can facilitate are vital for future generations.
Little’s piece exemplifies what’s at the heart of SHARDS: the specific importance Indigenous womanhood holds in reconciliation.
The colonial erasure which the show combats isn’t an abstract force. It’s distinctly patriarchal. SHARDS never depicts the powers that enforced that erasure. It shows the traditions that came before, and we see them reborn and nursed to life by mothers.