Art exhibit featuring sounds made visual coming to K.K. Berge Gallery in March

Robert G. Mull

Art Commons, one of Canada’s largest art galleries, is currently featuring a curated collection titled Indigenous Motherhood and Matriarchy that houses an exhibit with the work of Wicanhpi Iyotan Win (Autumn Cavender-Wilson). The show opened in December 2021, and runs through the end of this week, with the ability to view the entire collection virtually. The collection involves multiple artists, working to highlight women’s resiliency and strength, and is curated by a Cree artist named Autumn Whiteway. Whiteway curated the collection first in 2021, and the current collection is the third installment of artists. 

“I would say my piece is definitely one of the more unusual pieces in there. It’s a really beautiful exhibit in that there’s so many different mediums and so many different ways that people approached this topic, and so there’s everything from photography and painting to 3D canvases and sculpture, ranging from highly ancestral traditional styles of artwork all the way up to the very, very modern. Mine is definitely on the more modern end of that,” says Cavender-Wilson. Her own dive into the world of art started when she had her first child, Dacian. “I never wanted to be an artist. I never felt like I was good at traditional, or classic art. So I just very much ignored that until I had Dacian, at which point I realized there’s all of these different cultural items that we’re supposed to make for our babies when they’re born and I had nobody to make those items. I realized I needed to learn how to make them,” she says. Inspired to learn, Cavender-Wilson set out to learn from quillwork masters, traveling to Flandreau to work with Dave and Myrna Louis.  

A screenshot shows the portion of the exhibit that houses the work of Wicanhpi Iyotan Win (Autumn Cavender-Wilson) located at a Calgary Art gallery. The collection can be viewed online.

In the years since, she has refined her skills, creating a number of traditional pieces that have only been displayed locally once before through her work as the Arts Program Coordinator for Pezutazizi K’api (Upper Sioux Community). “Mostly because the kind of work I did up until that point was mostly wearable art – moccasins, cradleboards, and those kinds of things specifically made for children and families,” she says. But as time went on, and especially during the quarantine period of the COVID-19 pandemic, Cavender-Wilson began exploring ways in which she could create traditional artwork in a modern way. As she and her partner began exploring the world of NFTs* as collectors, ideas began to form. “One of the things we were talking about is what indigenous methodology or indigenous aesthetic looks like within digital spheres and digital art. Not copy/pasting historical designs and taking pictures of them, and putting them online, but how do we utilize these things as generative art to create something within our traditional methodologies,” she explains. “Through tackling the problem in this direction, I came up with this process that I’ve coined as digital quillwork or generative quillwork.” 

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