Art appreciation

Art exhibit blends biology and Indigenous perspectives


Curator Lucie Lederhendler stands next to works by Mary Anne Barkhouse, whose exhibit ‘opimihaw’ is on display at the Art Gallery of Southwestern Manitoba.

Artist Mary Anne Barkhouse’s “opimihaw” exhibition at the Art Gallery of Southwestern Manitoba is the culmination of a love affair with art and biology.

” Since I [was] as a child, I was fascinated by biology and art,” Barkhouse said. “That separation between art and science — I don’t think it ever existed.”

Barkhouse is Namgis, Kwakwa̱ka̱ʼwakw and is originally from British Columbia. Her experiences as an Indigenous person familiarized her with issues such as food sovereignty and ensuring landscape integrity.

In his country, the major problem is deforestation, Barkhouse said.

She comes from an Aboriginal and European background and this is reflected in her art. His mother is from a famous Aboriginal carving family in British Columbia, while his father is from Nova Scotia.

“On both sides of my family, I’ve had very direct experiences with [land] stewardship,” Barkhouse said. “I know both coasts well, from Nova Scotia to British Columbia, and here I am in the Prairies.

Artwork from the Mary Anne Barkhouse exhibition "opimihaw" at the Art Gallery of Southwestern Manitoba.


Artwork from the “opimihaw” exhibition by Mary Anne Barkhouse at the Art Gallery of Southwestern Manitoba.

In her art, she seeks to create juxtapositions between Indigenous knowledge and stories with European perspectives to play with the audience.

Its goal is to spark conversations about species affected by ecosystem change and the role people can play in revitalizing the landscape.

“There are these two common threads that run through the exhibition and my work.

“I bring my own perspective and experience, but I also hope that when people watch [it]they bring their own experience to it, and that the pieces themselves are open to interpretation, and that people can derive not just an aesthetic appreciation but a personal thread from the different works of art.”

Barkhouse cited the return of bison to Wanuskewin, Saskatchewan as the main driver for the project. Bison are a critical image on the plains and are featured throughout his work in “opimihaw”.

Opimihaw is the name of the creek that crosses Wanuskewin.

A herd of buffalo was recently released into the Wanuskewin landscape and the event ignited Barkhouse’s artistic spirit.

Artwork from the Mary Anne Barkhouse exhibition "opimihaw" at the Art Gallery of Southwestern Manitoba.


Artwork from the “opimihaw” exhibition by Mary Anne Barkhouse at the Art Gallery of Southwestern Manitoba.

“I was looking at the return of the bison both from an ecological perspective and what it meant for the land, and I was also looking at it from an Indigenous perspective and looking for commonalities where I come from,” Barkhouse said. “Most of the time, the activities of these species are in direct competition with human interests, which [is] exactly why they’ve been killed for the past hundred years – but they have a job…it’s exciting for me to show.”

Barkhouse is known for her work with bronze sculptures, but the “opimihaw” art installation draws on several different materials, including textiles and ceramics.

As visitors walk through the installation, she hopes they wonder why different animals and materials are featured and what makes them important.

“It goes back to their own personal relationship with the land. Their own personal relationship with the community they belong to,” Barkhouse said. “They think about those relationships and the cause and effect relationship between the smallest thing you can do and the daily choices we make.”

His pieces do not attempt to anthropomorphize animals. Instead, she focuses on how animals were perfectly designed by evolution to fit their ecological niche.

Barkhouse strives to promote the idea that the Prairies are home to animals so viewers think about the kinds of guests they are; to help promote this analogy, they are placed in domestic settings.

“Are we terrible guests? laughed Barkhouse. “That’s part of what I’m trying to achieve by placing these animals.”

Art Gallery of Southwestern Manitoba curator Lucie Lederhendler said it was difficult to bring the exhibit together due to the size of some of the pieces, but she tried to organize the exhibits in a way to make the public think.

The exhibit speaks to concerns about the changing prairie landscape, Lederhendler said, a message Westman residents can relate to.

The show is a special exhibit for Brandon, she added, because of Barkhouse’s ability to integrate biology into his work, inspiring conversations and meaningful dialogue about humanity’s place in the natural landscape.

She added that “opimihaw” creates a unique worldview that can teach people to see the landscape in a new way.

Lederhendler cited the large Wanuskewin tapestry with bison as an example.

“It’s about creating interior space and showing how things reference each other,” Lederhendler said.

“opimihaw” has its opening reception, featuring the Sweet Medicine Singers, today at the Art Gallery of Southwestern Manitoba at 7 p.m. A guided tour of the exhibit with Barkhouse will be available Friday at 1 p.m. h The art installation will be on display at the AGSM until April 9.

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