Skip to main content

Métis artist Audie Murray created Four-Point Ply, 2019, made of toilet paper and seed beads.

Handout

Great art can come from great challenges. COVID-19 has been a scourge and a torment, but it has also been an inspiration for some artists. Two galleries in the West have installed exhibitions featuring some of this work, much of it made by Indigenous artists. The work is meaningful, beautiful and often whimsical. It injects some beauty, even humour, into the pandemic experience.

Breathe, an exhibition at the Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies in Banff, Alta., features dozens of intricately beaded masks. And in Vancouver, the Living Room exhibition at the Fazakas Gallery, brings together COVID-inspired work – masks and more – by five Canadian artists.

Both shows are installed in gallery spaces, but also have detailed online components, as that is how most people will see them.

Story continues below advertisement

I saw Living Room in person on a sunny fall day, the two works featured in the tiny Downtown Eastside gallery’s display windows drawing me in. One, Métis artist Audie Murray’s Four-Point Ply, 2019, is a roll of toilet paper beaded with Hudson’s Bay Co.-inspired stripes, bringing to mind both domestic décor and the blankets that delivered earlier deadly epidemics to Indigenous people on this land. In the other window is Métis artist Marcy Friesen’s Last Breaths, 2020, a spectacular otter fur mask with beaded straps and adornments.

Marcy Friesen's Last Breaths, 2020, is a mask constructed of otter fur, pellon, seed beads, cut beads, beading thread, rope, felt and leather thread.

Handout

It was Ms. Friesen’s work that initially gave gallery owner LaTiesha Fazakas the idea for the show – which speaks not just to COVID-19, but the effect the pandemic has had on domestic life.

“So much of our time has now been spent at home. We all have this just surreal experience with that. And I think that there’s just so many ways to examine the experience,” Ms. Fazakas says. “I also liked the idea of the word ‘living.’ And having that contrast to the precarious threat to our living – financially, economically, physically.”

Inside, the gallery has been set up to resemble a cozy living room, with a blue couch, coffee table and shoe rack Ms. Fazakas brought from home. On the shoe rack sit several pairs of Ms. Friesen’s beaded moccasins – more utilitarian (and affordable) versions of her fine art moccasins elsewhere in the gallery on plinths.

Haida artist Trace Yeomans offers another ode to toilet paper, with her playful – but also critical and beautiful – installation, Eagles & Ravens, 2020. The 3.7-metre-long ultrasuede “roll” with Haida appliqué is partly unspooled along a white plinth.



Story continues below advertisement


Victoria-based artist Carollyne Yardley’s take on COVID-19 is an oil painting in a gilded frame. Zoonetics, 2020, is a surreal portrait: some sort of animal dressed in an elegant pink jacket with a triple-strand of pearls. Its face is covered in fur and hair braids, and coronavirus-like spikes. The creature’s talons poke out of a blue plastic glove.

Zoonetics, 2020, by Carollyne Yardley, sells for $4,900.

Handout

Ms. Friesen has also made a series of delicate gloves for the show.

Ms. Fazakas was excited by Ms. Friesen’s work, which Ms. Fazakas saw as part of Breathe, an extraordinary grassroots effort led by two Métis artists, Ontario-based Nathalie Bertin and Lisa Shepherd, who is based in British Columbia.

A creation by Lisa Shepherd of Maple Ridge, B.C., entitled Be Well, 2020,

Nathalie Bertin/Handout

A couple of weeks into the pandemic in the spring, Ms. Bertin asked on Facebook: Where are all the beaded masks?

“I was wondering: ‘Why am I not seeing artistic creations, especially by Métis people? Because we tend to use these times of upheaval, if you will, to create,’ ” Ms. Bertin says.

Story continues below advertisement

Mask entitled Pandemic Vogue, by artist Nathalie Bertin of Newmarket, Ont.

Nathalie Bertin/Handout

Ms. Shepherd, a friend, was having the same thought. The two women connected and put out a call on Facebook. They received some beautiful photos, but also heard from many artists who hadn’t been creating because they had felt blocked.

“I think the shock of seeing what was happening around the world just completely overtook them and they just couldn’t move forward,” Ms. Bertin says. The process of making the masks helped. “It’s been amazingly healing for a lot of people, even for me.”mur

The mask photos started coming in – not just from Canada but also around the world.

“We realized what was happening through this group is that we were creating artifacts that were depicting a very specific moment in time that not only speaks to Métis or Inuit, or First Nations but also anyone around the world,” Ms. Bertin says. “We’re all going through this together. And at that point we had an idea: Wouldn’t it be great if we saw these masks in exhibition and we sort of put it out there not really thinking it would actually happen. And then it did.”

In late September, Breathe opened at the Whyte Museum, with 45 masks (which are not actual personal protective equipment, organizers explain). They include works by both curators, as well as other artists from across Canada.

As a result of Breathe, some of these works have been acquired by museums as prestigious as the Smithsonian Institution and the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture in Seattle. After Banff, the show is headed for several other stops.

Story continues below advertisement

There is also an educational component, available to schools. And the organizers are now working on Breathe: The Second Wave. According to the call for submission, it will be exhibited at Ontario’s Art Gallery of Guelph in 2021, with a strong possibility of travelling elsewhere in Canada.

“It’s been a wild, fulfilling, sometimes overwhelming incredible roller-coaster ride,” says Ms. Bertin. “It’s been incredible to have something so positive come out of such a terrible situation.”

Our Morning Update and Evening Update newsletters are written by Globe editors, giving you a concise summary of the day’s most important headlines. Sign up today.

Coronavirus information
Coronavirus information
The Zero Canada Project provides resources to help you manage your health, your finances and your family life as Canada reopens.
Visit the hub

Follow related topics

Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

Comments that violate our community guidelines will be removed.

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies