Origin Stories: Kale Sheppard

Reconnecting with Inuit culture through urban murals

Muralist Kale Sheppard uses their art as a way to remain connected to their Inuit heritage.

Supplied photos

In the realm of urban artistry, Kale Sheppard emerges as a dynamic force, weaving their identity into the tapestry of Winnipeg’s cityscape.

Born in Duncan, B.C. and raised in Winkler, Man., Sheppard’s artistic journey is a testament to the profound influence of diverse Canadian landscapes and an embracing of identity.

While growing up in a predominantly white Mennonite community, Sheppard navigated the complexities of cultural identity, feeling disconnected from their Inuit heritage. Through art, they found a pathway to reconnect with their roots and explore their gender identity.

Sheppard mentions the Nunatsiavut Inuit community of Postville, N.L. – their home community – as a site and source of inspiration.

“We lived there for a year when I was eight years old, and that definitely inspired my art a lot, enough so that I applied for a grant to go back for a couple of weeks to get some photos, videos and collect stuff I found on the beach to send back home for more inspiration for my work,” they say.

At just eight years old, they sold their first painting for $25.

While deciding on a career path after graduating high school, Sheppard was inspired by the 2018 INSURGENCE/RESURGENCE exhibit at the Winnipeg Art Gallery, the gallery’s largest-ever exhibition of contemporary Indigenous art from 29 different artists.

“There was a lot of art from Nunatsiavut, and there were even some photos from Postville. And that was the first time I ever saw Inuit art displayed that way, especially from Nunatsiavut,” they say.

Sheppard connected with Inuit art curator Darlene Coward Wight, who then commissioned them to produce Mosaic Sea, a mural that was displayed outside the gallery on the scaffolding throughout the construction of Qaumajuq.

This work led to a commission of a sister mural, which is now a permanent installation outside the Resource Assistance for Youth (RaY) building on Sherbrook Street.

Sheppard quit their job at a senior living facility in spring 2020 to pursue art more seriously.

This career shift marked a turning point that led to digital art jobs and mural designs for private businesses and community initiatives.

Commissions began rolling in from organizations like Connected North, a virtual educational platform for remote northern communities, and CBC Manitoba.

Fast-forward to 2023, and Sheppard celebrated their inaugural solo art show at the Edge Gallery and Urban Art Centre in Winnipeg. The exhibition, titled Utik - Return, featured an eclectic mix of acrylic paintings, photography and mixed-media found-object sculptures, showcasing the evolution of their artistic ability.

Describing the significance of their mural work, Sheppard emphasizes how public art breathes life into a world dominated by bland architecture. The vibrancy of colours and intricate designs counterbalance the minimalist aesthetic that pervades contemporary urban spaces.

“It just brings life to a world that has become increasingly dull ... it seems like every new building that pops up is just a grey box with no character. People are missing the intricate designs and mouldings and carefully carved stonework and decor,” they say.

For them, public art serves as a catalyst for community engagement, fostering a sense of pride and providing a canvas for diverse narratives.

While working on their Cool Streets mural on the Niakwa Road Bridge this summer, Sheppard met tenants from the nearby apartment buildings, who had been watching their work unfold below.

“It gets people talking, and it kind of makes public spaces feel more like public space,” they say.

Published in Volume 78, Number 16 of The Uniter (February 1, 2024)

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