Exploring tradition organically

Garden at the Centre for Sustainable Food Systems at UBC Farms. | Photo by Dylan AT Miner

Garden at the Centre for Sustainable Food Systems at UBC Farms. | Photo by Dylan AT Miner

Métis artist and scholar Dylan Miner will let plants tell their part of the story in an art exhibition that will focus on traditional First Nations medicine. Michif – Michin (the people, the medicine) will open on August 5 at 6 p.m. in Gallery Gachet and occupy the space until August 28.

Although the show will be a solo exhibition, Miner claims the credit is shared. According to him, there is a symbiosis present in his work.

“None of this would be possible without the plants themselves,” he says.

Accessing a little documented past

Miner knew he wanted to explore his people’s traditions of health and medicine, but he was initially faced with a problem.

“I am interested in collaborating with the plants, which emerges from knowledge that was in my family – but it’s knowledge that is no longer held by living family members,” he says.

Where some historical projects could rely on armchair research, Michif – Michin could not. Miner points out that colonization, modernization and urbanization prevented huge chunks of cultural knowledge from being handed down to young Indigenous people.

“[For example], my grandfather’s grandmother was known for her plant knowledge, as well as her abilities to paddle a jiimaan (canoe),” he says.

But this is knowledge that Miner has had to seek out on his own. Without information on traditional medicine handily available in textbooks, Miner’s research became highly immersive and creative. In seeking out information, Miner took cues from Mary SiisipGeniusz’ book, Plants Have So Much to Give Us, All We Have to Do Is Ask.

“I invest much of my life in this ongoing project,” he explains. “Over the past few years, I’ve travelled and worked with knowledge keepers and read books and spent lots of time in the bush.”

Numerous conversations with elders and hours of quality time with the plants themselves are why Miner views plants less as objects to be featured in his work and more as contributors who have actually guided the process. In fact, it was amid harvesting birch bark in his home state of Michigan that Miner found time to speak about his current project and the role plants will have in the exhibition.

“I see the project as a collaboration, with community members, but also with the plants themselves. The work in the show includes a series of relief prints made of local medicinal and edible plants. The relief prints are printed with inks that I create from berries I harvest,” he says.

A space to share tea, bannock and stories

Artist Dylan Miner | Photo by Dylan AT Miner

Artist Dylan Miner | Photo by Dylan AT Miner

Plants’ natural habitat is not in a gallery, but viewers can expect to be put in touch with the broader context in which the work is rooted.

“In some ways, the art exists before and after the actual exhibition at Gallery Gachet. In the gallery itself, people will be able to interact with the work and with one another. There will be a space to share tea and bannock and stories with others,”

Miner adds. “There will also be very traditional artwork in frames on the gallery walls.”

However, just as the process behind Michif – Michinwas is exploratory, so will the audience’s experience of the show be active.

Bringing history into the present

Despite its grounding in history, the exhibition will not be an exercise in nostalgia. Miner explains how this project fits into an activist context, specifically in a constructive sense. While his previous work aimed to ‘challenge power and inequity,’ his focus has now shifted to embody the ethics and practices that he wants to see in the world.

“The real work is about creating new social relationships and practicing Indigenous ways of being in the world. All of this happens before, during and after the show,” he says.

For more information, please visit www.gachet.org.