New exhibition at WAG-Qaumajuq celebrates Indigenous women and their resilience

A new exhibit opening Friday at the Winnipeg Art Gallery-Qaumajuq celebrates Indigenous feminists’ resistance against patriarchal and colonial practice.

Winyan  the Dakota word for woman — opens Friday and features the work of Anishinaabe, Dakota and Mé​tis artist Lita Fontaine.

Winyan incorporates symbols of assimilation and gender-discriminatory policies, channelling Fontaine’s love for her sisters, matriarchs and culture through collages, drawings, dresses and large medallion-shaped paintings, a news release for the exhibition says.

“I would like to acknowledge the resiliency of our female ancestors, our matriarchs, our knowledge keepers and holders,” Fontaine said at a news conference Thursday morning. “The aunties, the sisters, those who walked before us and those who are not yet born and our allies.

“Through ceremony, I’ve come to understand how grateful I am to learn and to serve as a creative for our women in our community,” she said.

The dresses on display were inspired by Fontaine’s youth, when she went to powwows but her mother couldn’t afford the type of garments worn by others at the ceremony.

A woman in glasses stands at a podium.
Lita Fontaine’s work will be on display as part of the exhibit Winyan, opening to the public Friday night. (Gary Solilak/CBC )

She decided to learn and teach herself how to make them, and now they’re on display as part of the exhibit. 

“I was going through some stuff in the family and I needed to find a way to deal with those issues,” she said. “As an artist, making artwork can be our medicine sometimes.”

The bright colours radiating from the artwork — especially pink — represent warmth and femininity, Fontaine said.

That vibrancy also stands out to Marie-Anne Redhead, WAG-Qaumajuq’s assistant curator of Indigenous and contemporary art. 

“There’s a lot of cultural assumptions made about pink, and it’s associated with being feminine, and so I really did want to sort of reclaim that and lean into it” in this exhibition, she said.

A pink wooden disc.
Pink is a featured colour in the artwork on display. (Gary Solilak/CBC)

Redhead hopes young Indigenous artists who see the exhibit are motivated in their own creativity. 

“I think it’s important to see the work of those that come before you and use it as inspiration,” Redhead said.

Fontaine wants people who walk through the gallery to be captivated by the art.

“I want people to experience — not just to look at it, but I want them to almost touch it, you know, to feel it with their eyes,” she said. “I want them to experience the work.”