Reflection and healing take center stage in new exhibitions at the Tom Thomson Art Gallery


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With his first solo exhibition, now on view at the Tom Thomson Art Gallery, Southampton Aboriginal artist Brent Henry wanted to shine a light on a dark part of Canada’s history.


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And by highlighting this legacy of Canada’s residential school system on his show Zoongide’win/Strong Heart, Henry is optimistic, it will help spark reflection, healing and hope.

“After everything that’s happened, hopefully we can get together and try to make it right and move on,” Henry said Friday during a tour of his exhibit. “No matter what happens, as a people we will continue to practice our culture. We will continue to move forward. »

Henry said he began his work on the subject in late 2019, at a time when many people he spoke to knew little about Canada’s dark history of residential schools. He wanted to help educate more people about what happened in the residential school system.

“I thought it was a little weird,” Henry said. “Even when I started looking for more information about it and everything, thinking it would be part of Canadian history, and it wasn’t usually thought of that way.

“I thought I would do a body of work and try to get it more known.”

A lot has changed since he started, especially after the remains of 215 children were discovered in unmarked graves at the Kamloops Indian Residential School last May.

Since then, hundreds more unmarked graves have been discovered at other schools across the country and more searches are ongoing. The findings have renewed calls for reconciliation and greater awareness of this past in which Indigenous children were taken from their homes and sent to schools, many never to return home again. On September 30, the first National Day of Truth and Reconciliation took place with ceremonies across the country honoring lost children and survivors from schools, their families and communities.


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“It’s unfortunate, but it’s also a good thing that they find the graves,” Henry said.

In his large mixed media pieces, Henry uses a variety of mediums including acrylic, spray paint, oil stick and paint marker to combine vibrant colors with impactful text, each telling a story. on the subject.

In his play, Still Missing, he depicts a young student at a boarding school, her hair cropped short, with a red handprint on her mouth. In the work, he links the history of the residential school system to that of missing and murdered Aboriginal women.

“I connected the two because a lot of students went missing in residential schools and our people are still missing,” Henry said, adding that he also included tobacco lids and the dress jingle at jingle to signify healing.

In Bones Don’t Lie, a large white skull covers finer designs of skeletons, bones, fish, arrows and other images. The number 215 is crossed out in the upper corner of the work, a representation of the 215 children discovered in Kamloops, a number that has rapidly increased. More numbers were added to the work as more graves were discovered.

In the exhibition he also included a work titled Short Hair Indians, a collection of four papier-mâché masks with beach grass hair. The faces are all lined up as if they were school children staring at the viewer.

Henry said a lot of research was done on the works by reading, watching videos and talking to people, which sometimes became exhausting. Her own grandmother was part of the boarding schools for a while and she never talked about it.


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“I think it’s important work to do and I’m grateful to have the opportunity to do it,” Henry said. “I’m also grateful that people want to show it.”

Henry will also record descriptions of his works, which will be accessible to viewers by scanning QR codes that will be placed next to gallery installations.

Complementing his own exhibition, Henry was invited by the art gallery to choose a selection of works from the gallery’s collection to also showcase. He chose a variety of pieces, including several by First Nations artists.

He said he loved the experience and was touched by the experience of sharing a space with other well-known artists.

“I tried to choose paints and stuff that would go with the healing part,” Henry said. “I just like the way they are paired.”

He hopes the show will bring out many different emotions in those who watch it. A reflection space has been included where gallery visitors can sit and read some of the resources available on First Nations.

“We thought that was a very important part of curating these kinds of exhibits is having this extra resource for the community,” said chief curator and director Aidan Ware. “It can be a difficult subject to discuss with your family or children, but here we have provided a safe space to share and learn and we really hope people take advantage of it.”

The exhibit also includes a short film titled Thunder Rolling Home, directed by local filmmaker Sharon Isaac.


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The film, centering on Isaac’s grandfather and carrying on his tradition, is also linked to the parts of Henry’s show.

“There are scenes where the older generation is sitting around while the younger generation is dancing, practicing cultivation,” Henry said. “I love that they pass it on.”

Tom Thomson Art Gallery director and chief curator Aidan Ware, left, and assistant curator Shannon Bingeman view a work by artist Becky Comber at the gallery on Friday, March 4, 2022.
Tom Thomson Art Gallery director and chief curator Aidan Ware, left, and assistant curator Shannon Bingeman view a work by artist Becky Comber at the gallery on Friday, March 4, 2022.

The other recently opened exhibition at the gallery is The Dream of Deep Ecology, which features the works of local artist Becky Comber and Alberta artist Jennifer Wanner.

Comber’s works involve taking photos of local natural features, printing them out, then painstakingly cutting them out and placing them in raised circular frames, which creates both reflection and shadow, creating a more sculptural feel.

One piece, titled 12 Seasons, features 12 different framed photographs, all taken on Comber’s property in Holland Centre. Each image represents a different month of the year.

“It starts with January and follows the calendar year in a circle to December below,” said Shannon Bingeman, the gallery’s assistant curator. “People can visually see this cycle unfold.”

Wanner’s works feature collages of various plants together to create a larger plant. The exhibit includes a collection of works, titled Periculum, featuring plants found in the various provinces and territories of Canada.

“The collages are all drawn from plants considered at risk or endangered with artwork representing each province,” Bingeman said. “What she is proposing is that these are rescued plant forms that we have genetically engineered together into one species with the idea that instead of protecting all of these individual species, we can focus on protecting of one.


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“That will of course never happen, but she does this to remind us of how absurd it is that humans tried to control nature to begin with.”

Another great work by Wanner, titled Bower, draws attention to endangered plant species that grow on Canadian soil, but also grow beyond its borders. A stop motion film features one of the plant species trying to herd the others into the arbor. The builder’s attempts become futile as the shelter closes and buries him.

Bingeman said all the exhibits help remind us that there is still beauty in the world, with all the hostility and uncertainty there is right now.

“There is beauty that is worth slowing down and acknowledging and acknowledging our place within it,” she said.

A coffee reception and artist talk hosted by Wanner will take place on March 12 at 11 a.m. There will also be an art demonstration by Comber. Admission is free and all are welcome. The number of places being limited, pre-registration is encouraged by contacting the gallery.

The exhibitions will be visible at the gallery until April 30.



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