The exhibition Aisinna’kiiks is the recording of a process which began in mid-winter of 2018 when Elders were invited to St. Mary’s to discuss the first contemporary art exhibition to be held within the Mauro Art Gallery at St. Mary’s University. This new, dynamic space was made possible by a major donation from Tom and Debra Mauro as well as additional funding from the Government of Alberta Community Facility Enhancement Program and Alberta Historical Resources Foundation Heritage Preservation Partnership Program.
It was in this safe space of discussion that it was decided that the focus of this new exhibit would be that of the land’s untold story prior to European contact, well before conflict between neighbouring tribes began.
The artworks in the exhibition bring a resonance from the past, into the present, and give directional order to the future. Aisinna’kiiks speaks to the visual representation of what the heart wants but what cannot be said in words with the aim of being a living exhibition, to be held in the hearts of visitors wherever they may go.
The journey was ambitious and overwhelming at times, however, Michelle Scott, Director of Indigenous Initiatives at St. Mary’s University was left in awe of the end result.
“Some things, as much as you try to rush – take the time they take,” explains Scott. “It was, at times, stressful, but the end result far outweighed any discomfort. Because this process began in ceremony and was Elder-led, there was a sense that everything was going to be ok and a knowing that everything is a story. Whatever occurs is a part of that story.”
For Scott, the significance of Aisinna’kiiks being the first exhibit within the Mauro Art Gallery is not lost her.
“It’s good to know that other people are listening to the Calls To Action on Education for Truth and Reconciliation and are understanding that it is important to tell these stories,” explained Scott. “Art has a way to tell stories that can be more invitational than other methods. Art is an expression of history, art is an expression of social change or social commentary and can open things up in ways that other mediums cannot.”
“At St. Mary’s we are an academic institution operating in the Western world, there are always going to be certain protocols that we adhere to but we are beginning to listen to other ways of knowing, to other histories and to other voices. To have this exhibit and even this process – we will always have this experience, and learnings to remember.”
Scott believes that by having the Aisinna’kiiks exhibit it is another way that St. Mary’s is solidifying the institutional commitment to tell different stories. Her wish is to have more people engage with the exhibit and hopefully through discussion with the artists, the curator, and with Elders, identify how Aisinna’kiiks is an act of reconciliation.
“We need to see this exhibit for what it is, which is decolonizing,” explains Scott. “It’s a way to take a space that is very Colonial and very Western and disrupting that space to create an Indigenous Centre.”
Having the artists come to campus and discuss their own pieces of art was a significant and impactful aspect of the exhibit that Scott believes provided a rare opportunity to hear and learn from the personal journeys of each individual artist.
“Because art often speaks for itself, it was interesting to have the artists share their voices and their thoughts and processes behind the pieces,” said Scott.
The conversation doesn’t end with Aisinna’kiiks as Scott believes that this needs to become a part of the fabric of the St. Mary’s story.
“Any time we can create a place where other voices are shared, it creates safety for those who are looking to find themselves within a space. By us telling the story about how this happens and how Aisinna’kiiks is a living exhibition, we are asking people to relate to it and to see it as not just as pieces on the wall. We want to invite people into understanding the process of it, anytime we have something that is a different process, in a different voice and in a different space we are creating safer spaces and allowing people to see themselves and maybe inform how they view certain things.”