Home Arts & Culture ‘Sky Flowers’ exhibit brings on spring

‘Sky Flowers’ exhibit brings on spring

Courtesy Michael Patten

Downtime during the pandemic gave everyone a respite from daily routine; some took a much-needed rest, while others delved into unexpected projects, and anything in between. For Sierra Barber, an Upper Mohawk and mixed-European artist from Port Dover, Ontario, it became a time to reconnect with her art practice, and discover it in a whole new way.

Drawing inspiration from Haudenosaunee imagery, she superimposes painting and beadwork, referencing her Indigenous roots from Six Nations of the Grand River Territory. 

“It made sense for my practice in the way that I wanted to speak about identity, using these two material languages and bringing them together to create a single image. It just came together naturally,” said Barber, who is currently pursuing a master of fine arts at Concordia University.  

Her work is featured in her exhibit called Sky Flowers at Shé:kon Gallery, associated with the The Biennale of Contemporary Indigenous Art (BACA). 

“We had a lot of visitors come through, so it was a really great day. I was really, really happy with how it went,” Barber said of the vernissage, held on Saturday, February 17. The exhibit features five paintings of different sizes all connected through the central theme of strawberries and spring. 

Although Barber grew up outside her community, her Indigenous lineage has always been an important part of her identity. Not knowing the language or parts of the history have created barriers to connecting further with the community and her identity. 

But she kept pushing and dug deeper. “That’s not where the story ends. This is just the beginning for me.… I feel like it took a lot of overcoming to even speak about identity. So I really wanted the show to feel very alive, very colourful and bright and reference the Mohawk Creation Story,” she said. 

Strawberry seeds are said to have been among the few seeds Sky Woman had with her when she fell from the Sky World, and are an essential element to the Creation Story. 

“It’s such a tight, impressive, flawless blend in such a perfect way is something that I have not seen before,” said Katsitsanoron Dumoulin-Bush, who curated the exhibit. 

As Dumoulin-Bush observed and learned more about Barber, two qualities stood out immensely: “It’s her meticulousness and her optimism. They speak so much about her, and you see it in the work.” 

Barber’s work is also an avenue to freely express her mixed identity, and hearing from others with similar stories has meant a lot. “I’m not one thing or another. I’m both of these things happening at the same time.”

She uses a lot of patterns in the pieces to show a continuity in the images, she said. “It doesn’t have a start or an end, these berries and flowers are kind of just going on forever.” 

A display of one-of-a-kind beaded mismatched earrings completes the exhibit. Each pair draws inspiration from the beadwork in the paintings. “I wanted to bring the work back to something wearable, so that it relates to the body again.

“The idea behind that one was that we carry stories with us wherever we go. I carry stories that I know and some that I don’t,” Barber said. “I just hope that the work feels positive and alive and just feels like something new, something fresh,” she added.

“It tells you about who she is as a person and her practice, and it all just comes together in a very self-contained image. And I find that her work fully tells her story,” added Dumoulin-Bush. “This work is truly something unlike anything else I’ve ever seen.”

The exhibit will be on display until April 20. 

nanor.fr@gmail.com

This article was originally published in print on February 23 in issue 33.08 of The Eastern Door.

Nanor is a reporter and copy editor with The Eastern Door. She was previously the managing editor and creative director at The Link.

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Nanor is a reporter and copy editor with The Eastern Door. She was previously the managing editor and creative director at The Link.