Labour’s Trace: a history of cultural identities

Choke, 2017 (detail). Handmade steel chain, corn, brass, handmade brass mount on wood panel. W 61 cm, H 122 cm, D 30.5 cm. | Photo by Anthony McLean

Labour’s Trace, a two-person exhibition with artists Karin Jones and Amy Malbeuf showcasing pieces that reflect ideas connected to labour, livelihood and histories of colonization, will run from Feb. 15–Apr. 11 at the Richmond Art Gallery (RAG).

The exhibition is based on the idea that notions of labour thread through works grounded in concepts of livelihood. Jones and Malbeuf are makers of objects who transform traditional and contemporary materials into works of art centered around cultural identity and historical narratives. Through their own labour, they confront historical misrepresentations with expressions of pride and strength, and teach their audience other ways of knowing history.

“I’ve long admired Karin and Amy’s work,” says Nan Capogna, RAG curator. “Karin lives in Vancouver, and Amy, who was born in Alberta, now lives in Halifax. They both bring intelligence and a strong sense of materiality to their works.”

The artists

In this installation of eight works, Jones draws on her African-Nova Scotian heritage when examining the impact of historical narratives that shape identity. Drawing from extensive metalsmithing experience, Jones created the works as objects of adornment, with deliberate references to restraints used during the period of the enslavement of African peoples in North America. Made from found objects – leather horse tack, hominy (corn) kernels, human hair – and combined with handcrafted components of steel, silver or brass, the pieces are fabricated to fasten around the neck.

Métis artist Malbeuf presents a dozen individual works, bound together by a firm observance of traditional Indigenous practices adeptly shaped to reflect contemporary ideas and concerns. Malbeuf uses tarpaulin as she might have customarily worked with animal hide for clothing: stretching, beading (Tarp 2017) or creating fringe (Outer Seam 1–3). In many of the works, she employs beadwork and animal hair tufting, skills learned from other women sharing their cultural knowledge working side by side. Hair tufting has become an important part of Malbeuf’s art practice and, like beadwork, it is labour intensive, requiring a deep commitment to the art form.

Malbeuf has exhibited her work nationally and internationally in over forty shows at venues such as the Winnipeg Art Gallery, the Art Gallery of Alberta and the Museum of Contemporary Native Arts. She has also participated in many international artist residencies, including the Melbourne Institute of Technology, The Banff Centre and The Labrador Research Institute. Malbeuf has been the recipient of the 2016 Lieutenant Governor of Alberta Emerging Artist Award, the 2016 William and Meredith Saunderson Prize for Emerging Artists in Canada from the Hnatyshyn Foundation and the 2017 REVEAL award from the Hnatyshyn Foundation.

An opportunity for learning

As a curator, Capogna is always working with and learning from different artists. She believes that the Labour’s Trace exhibition is a great event to attend in order to learn about different cultures.

“The exhibition presents an opportunity for our Richmond community, many who were born outside of Canada, to learn more about Indigenous and African-Nova Scotian histories through an art experience,” says Capogna. “These are histories that have been absent or misrepresented and it is important to bring works like Karin and Amy’s to a public art gallery.”

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