The Kwanlin Dün Cultural Centre Sewing Group would like to encourage you to see their work in Indigenous Purpose, an exhibition featuring their nine dog blankets and two podium banners. It’s on display at the Harbourfront Centre in Toronto until Jan. 5, 2020. It’s part of the Festival of Cool: The Arctic, which opens with a Dec. 10 celebration that will launch five days of panel discussions and films about living in the North.

The dog blankets look stunning in the vitrines, little glassed-in boxes in the hallway. There, you can also see artists working in hot glass or ceramics in their on-site residency program, check out other exhibitions at Harbourfront, or the Power Plant Gallery next door, or go skating.

Not that the show will be desperate for audience numbers. During the Day of the Dead festivities at Harbourfront, 6,000 people saw the show. Curator Melanie Egan says it’s realistic to think that by the end of its run, at least 10,000 people will have had a chance to view these artworks. She said people have loved seeing them so far. In particular, Harbourfront hosted representatives from Norwegian Craft from Oslo, to whom the project was particularly relevant, as they were doing outreach towards reconciliation with the Indigenous Sami people in Norway.

The show also saw a lot of traffic during the Toronto Biennial of Art and the 10-day Toronto International Festival of Authors, which also took place at Harbourfront. In the far hallway, another exhibition installed in vitrines approaches topics of traditional art production from a more critical standpoint. Nicolas Galanin has created Fair Warning: A Sacred Place by putting into the vitrines photographs of other museum vitrines with Tlingit objects removed. Audio recording plays from contemporary live auctions of Native American art. Through this exhibition, Galanin asks who is selling, who is buying, and what relationship or claim do they make to the art and culture they are trafficking?

Nicholas Galanin asks challenging questions about power and objects from Tlingit culture

These are important questions to ask on the journey (hopefully) towards reconciliation. Egan therefore appreciated even more deeply the love and celebration embodied in the dog blankets. “These pieces are joyful. As you pick them up, the bells start jingling. The detail and care and love in them come through clearly. And the home tan hide smells amazing.” She said she feels honoured to have handled the pieces.

As the Harbourfront Centre tries to move towards reconciliation, it’s now ingrained in their policies to celebrate leadership in Indigenous Craft. Florence Moses’ leadership in the Kwanlin Dun Cultural Centre Sewing Group is part of what the exhibition celebrates, with a quote from her on the interpretive panel beside the exhibition. The group’s work came to Egan’s attention through an article in Studio Magazine, a magazine dedicated to fine craft and design, which was co-authored by the sewing group and the writer of this article.

The show features nine of the 10 dog blankets the group created to reclaim traditional cultural practices around these art objects. The dog blankets on display were created by Shirley Adamson, Deb Enoch, Nyla Klugie-Migwans, Karen Lepine, Pauline Livingstone, Elizabeth Moses, Florence Moses, Diane Olsen, Velma Olsen.

Amélie Druillet, Anne Tayler, Darcy McDiarmid and Nicole Bauberger were involved in the collaborative podium banners. All 10 blankets have been collected by the Yukon Permanent Art Collection, whose loan of the works and crating made the exhibition possible. Anne Tayler also created a dog blanket, which is on display as part of Natural Connections at the newly renovated Yukon College library with other new works in the Permanent Collection until April 2020.

In addition to the dog blankets, the show features two podium banners, created collectively on home tanned hide, by the sewing group. One was created for the Kwanlin Dun Cultural Centre, in appreciation of Harbourfront hosting the sewing group. The other was created for the Yukon Quest Association to use at their banquets. Both are held by the KDCC’s permanent collection, and loaned to the exhibition.

The final vitrine features a photo of the sewing group, as well as portraits of two dogs, Nelson and Milsap, wearing the dog blankets.

You can see Ingenious Purpose in Toronto until Jan. 5, 2020.

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