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Montreal gallery celebrates Indigenous beading

Swing by La Guilde in Montreal and visitors can get a blend of tradition and modern beadwork, as the gallery celebrates some of the most inventive bead artists of the contemporary art scene. (Mehanaz Yakub, The Eastern Door)

La Guilde, an art gallery and museum in downtown Montreal, has a new exhibition showcasing contemporary beadwork by Indigenous and non-Indigenous artists from across Canada.

“Beading Now!” features artworks of 11 artists; Judy Anderson, Catherine Blackburn, Teresa Burrows, Hannah Claus, Ruth Cuthand, Dayna Danger, Sarah Maloney, Audie Murray, Mike Patten, Sylvain Rivard and Nico Williams, as well as several beaded pieces from the gallery’s own permanent collection.

(Mehanaz Yakub, The Eastern Door)

The goal of this exhibition is to create a place where Indigenous and non-Indigenous artists can exchange thoughts and ideas.

Karine Gaucher, the exhibition’s curator, said beading techniques have been carried across generations and hopes that the exhibition continues to show that they are very much an “alive” tradition.

“As for the new generation of Indigenous artists, beadwork is a way to stay connected to their heritage and pay tribute to their own culture,” said Gaucher.

Sylvain Rivard, a Montreal-based artist with French Canadian and Abenaki roots, has four items displayed at the exhibition.

One of his pieces is a beaded portrait of his grandmother, who, along with his grandfather, taught Rivard how to bead when he was young. 

“My grandpa and my grandma are always with me. I always say that my left hand is my grandfather and my right hand is my grandmother,” said Rivard. 

It is because of their influence that it was natural for him to mix old and contemporary art together, he said. 

Rivard’s definition of contemporary art is created when an artist can use the same techniques and materials from the past and intellectualize an idea or concept, in order to make the audience pause and think about what they are seeing.

“Contemporary art talks about today’s concerns and topics that are very modern now,” he added.

In two of his other works, Rivard took portrait photographs of himself with dolls from the 1920s-40s and made collages out of them. He then beaded tears coming from his eyes.

When creating the piece, Rivard said he was thinking about the question, “What have you done with our children?”  and the crying beads show his thoughts about it.

Ruth Cuthand, an artist of Plains Cree, Scottish and Irish descent, also used her beadwork to discuss the topic of colonialism and the effects settlers had on the health and living conditions of Indigenous people. 

For the exhibition, Cuthand purchased 100 used Canadian forces blankets and beaded a tiny smallpox virus designs and sewed it onto the blankets. She then wrapped two blankets at a time in bright red ribbons to make them appear like they are presents. She entitled her work “Extirpate this Execrable Race.”

“I had been thinking about biological warfare and the use of blankets that carried the smallpox virus. I wanted an impactful representation of this attempt to eradicate us,” said Cuthand.

“The last 11 years I have been using beading as part of my art practice. I have tried to politicize the bead, taking beadwork from a stereotype image of Indigenous craft and move it to a place of an energized practice,” she said.

The Beading Now! Exhibition at La Guilde gallery and museum is available to go see until July 21. 

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