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Deh Cho artists showcased
Artwork on display as part of Northern Scene Festival

Roxanna Thompson
Northern News Services
Published Thursday, May 2, 2013

Artwork from the Deh Cho has been turning heads in the nation's capital.

NNSL photo/graphic

Jerry Antoine, right, Joseph Nayally, Walter Landry and Lawrence Nayally open the Aurora Boreawesomer exhibition at Gallery 101 in Ottawa on April 26 with a ceremony that included a prayer song. The Dehcho Drummers also performed at two other events at the Northern Scene Festival. - photo courtesy of Tonya Fawn

Aurora Boreawesomer, an exhibition featuring work by 20 artists either from or inspired by the Deh Cho, opened at Gallery 101 in Ottawa on April 26. The exhibition is part of the larger Northern Scene Festival organized by the National Arts Centre that is running from April 25 to May 4.

More than 200 people visited the gallery during Aurora Boreawesomer's opening day, said Lynn Canney, the executive director of the Open Sky Creative Society, who also curated the show.

"The exhibit is based in diversity," said Canney.

When Gallery 101 approached the OSC Gallery, which the society runs, about putting together an exhibit to coincide with the festival, Canney offered to curate something similar to the members' exhibits the gallery often has that combine works from a number of artists. The Deh Cho isn't large enough to be able to put forward a show of just one type of work, but there is a plethora of different art forms being practised, she said.

"Within that diversity, it is the land that speaks to the artist," said Canney.

All of the works in the show are either visions from the land or pieces made from the land. The contemporary pieces include paintings by D'Arcy J. Moses, Randy Sibbeston, Joseph Purcell and Melaw Nakehk'o, photographs by Chuck Blyth and Nathalie Lavoie, who also has two video installations, and a sculpture by John Sabourin.

The exhibition also includes traditional works such as moose hair tufting by Louisa Moreau, birchbark baskets by Celine Edda, a spruce root basket by Phoebe Punch and a selection of moccasins. Traditional works don't often get into art galleries, said Canney. They are often seen in museums representing the art of cultures that have faded, but in the Deh Cho they are part of a thriving culture, she said.

"There was of course a lot of interest in the traditional works," said Canney.

The exhibition has been very well received, said Laura Margita, the director and curator of Gallery 101.

"We were so happy to see the waves upon waves of people coming in," she said.

Some visitors have commented that Aurora Boreawesomer is the best visual arts show at the Northern Scene Festival, said Margita.

"People really, really loved it," she said.

The variety of the works in the exhibition, both contemporary and traditional, is one of the things that people have liked about it, Margita said.

"It's wonderful to pair those things together."

Visitors to the gallery have made a variety of positive comments about the show, including noticing the scent of the tanned moosehide that is still coming from a pair of gauntlets made by Mary Neyelle.

Hilda Tsetso of Fort Simpson also has an artwork made out of moosehide in the show. Tsetso submitted one of her traditional moosehide dolls for Aurora Boreawesomer.

"I'm excited because people get to learn about our culture and our history and us as Dene," Tsetso said about having one of her dolls on display in Ottawa.

Tsetso, who has been making moosehide dolls since she was a child, made the doll, which has a name that means bear's brother, last year. The doll has hair made from moose hair and is wearing a decorated coat. The exhibition is a positive thing, she said.

"It helps to open the door to save our art and keep it alive," Tsetso said.

"It encourages our people to be more creative."

Tonya Makletzoff of Fort Simpson is also enthusiastic about Aurora Boreawesomer. Makletzoff has two acrylic on canvas paintings in the show. One depicts Madeline Gargan and Sandra Edda making babiche while the other shows Mary Cazon plucking ducks at a spring camp.

"I think it's a fantastic opportunity to share the immense talent of our region with the rest of the country and the world," said Makletzoff.

Most people don't get to see the talent and variety of art that comes from the region or understand that many of the art forms are very traditional and use materials that are harvested from the land, Makletzoff said.

The art in Aurora Boreawesomer, which will be on display at Gallery 101 until June 8, isn't the Deh Cho's only contribution to the festival.

Jerry Antoine, Walter Landry, Joseph Nayally and Lawrence Nayally performed as the Dehcho Drummers as part of the official opening for the festival on April 25. The four drummers also opened Aurora Boreawesomer with a ceremony that included smudging and a prayer song.

The Dehcho Drummers also participated in the spirit of the drum presentation during two performances at the National Arts Centre on April 28. The presentation was a way to tell stories and nine different drum groups provided aspects of stories in their own way through language, song and drumming, said Antoine of Fort Simpson.

"It was amazing," he said.

"It was a real good kind of emotional presentation that we had given. It was very spiritual."

It was an honour to be asked to be part of the group, Antoine said, adding he was impressed by Aurora Boreawesomer.

Fiddler Wesley Hardisty of Fort Simpson also performed at the festival.

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