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Indigenous artists and Knowledge Keepers inspire new exhibition at North Vancouver’s Polygon Gallery

Indigenous focused program showcases short videos and images created from workshops held over summer and fall 2021 with Indigenous artists and Knowledge Keepers
Algonquin/Cree/Huron artists kat savard is one of the participants in the Response: Soft Action program currently showing at the Polygon Gallery in North Vancouver.

A new exhibition at North Vancouver’s Polygon Gallery is sharing stories and conversations inspired by the growing networks of care among art communities throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

Presented by the Taylor Taliesen Foundation, Response: Soft Action showcases a series of short videos and images created as a result of workshops between Indigenous Knowledge Keepers and artists, and comes from a collaboration between The Polygon Gallery, First Nations Student Services and the Indigenous Digital Filmmaking Program at Capilano University.

The works and stories that came out of the workshops look to start conversations about holding space for oneself and others, through a wide range of cinematic approaches that reflect on themes such as time, belonging, and compassion.

In its second year, assistant curator at the Polygon, Nicole Brabant, said the Indigenous-focused program garnered 50 applications for this cycle, from which 15 artists were chosen to participate with 12 finished works currently being shown at the gallery.

Artists Jules Arita Koostachin (Cree, Attawapiskat First Nation), David Geary (Taranaki Māori), and Rose Stiffarm (Blackfoot, Siksika Nation) were among the Knowledge Keepers and artists who guided the workshops.

“I just love connecting them all [cohort and mentors],” Brabant said.

The works themselves “flow between stillness and migration, while voices capture fleeting moments, then weave broader narratives connecting generations past and future towards healing and resolution. Through gestures chosen with care and deeply felt, Soft Action considers how we hold ourselves and others within our communities near and far,” the gallery said in a statement.

Brabant described one of the works by kat savard (Algonquin/Cree/Huron) as a “meditation on stillness.”

“It’s this beautiful shot of herself in her living space, doing some kind of mundane, everyday task alone. But with this voice-over narration that is the internal monologue, just reflecting on the busyness of the times that we find ourselves in, and just marking out, making space for stillness,” she said.

“kat is someone who, like most of the participants, was deeply affected by these amazing facilitators that that worked with the group. And it just is so beautifully expressed in the work that she shared and prepared for the screening.”

Nîhithaw Cree artist Caleb Ellison-Dysart found himself travelling back to his home community to work with his family members to tell the story of the impact of the hydro development there, Brabant said.

“The work is just incredibly nuanced, in terms of giving voice to those community members, and the care and the action that they take in, in working through that.”

Brabant said Response will be developed further in the months to come, with a series of online public programming in February that will include yet-to-be-announced respondents to the work.

The works produced by participants will be on view at The Polygon through Feb 6.

Charlie Carey is the North Shore News' Indigenous and civic affairs reporter. This reporting beat is made possible by the Local Journalism Initiative.