Hands of Time: Bush Women on the Land
Curated by Jennifer Bowen Allen
Hands of Time: Bush Women on the Land, is a collection of works by First Nations artists that examines and recognizes bush women in their lives and in their communities. This exhibit of original works honours First Nations women who continue to maintain and preserve our traditional way of life on the land to this day.
The term, bush women, refers to Indigenous women who continue a traditional way of life on the land. This way of life is founded on generations of teachings passed to them through their ancestors. The bush women, in turn, share those teachings by modeling and demonstrating their knowledge.
In a time when we can choose modern services and digital technology, bush women are living pillars of our traditional institutions. They are on the land and are ambassadors of history and keepers of traditional ways. They sacrifice their lives to maintain the way of our people.
Bush women acquire their skills and knowledge through relationships with key members of their family and community. Their teachers are elders, aunties, uncles, brothers and sisters and their classroom is the land. In the past, our people’s lives followed the natural cycles and patterns of the bush. Cycles that determined when, what, and how to gather our foods, medicines, and resources. My own collection of stories from women on the land has helped me as a woman, a mother, and wife. These stories give me a sense of connection and belonging in my community.
I selected these seven artists: Jean Taylor, Mary Caesar, Dolores Scheffen, Arlene Ness, Blair Thorson, Heather Bell Callaghan, and Amber Walker, based on the connection I have with them, and with their work. Most of us have met at the Adäka Cultural Festival, a week-long event that joins together First Nations visual and performing artists.
With the exception of Blair, all the artists are women with varying experience on the land. Blair’s wildlife portraits on surveyor’s maps are unique, but his water colour of Inuit children and women on the land resonated with me. His pieces capture his many years travelling across the north as a surveyor interacting with local people in remote communities.
Mary Caesar is a visual artist and activist in her remote community of Upper Liard just outside o Watson Lake. In her work, she explores issues such as violence, abuse, and alcoholism. In this exhibition I asked Mary to shift her focus on the traditional way of life of women in her community.
Dolores Scheffen is a traditional artist who incorporates works of both the Tudakh and Hän people’s traditional designs. Dolores learned to bead when she was six by learning to make necklaces and small things with her mother, Fanny Dupont. Dolores’s mother and her grandmother Annie Henry, inspired her to sew. In this exhibit I challenged her to move away from the moccasin and bead onto a canvas.
Heather Bell Callaghan and Amber Walker are emerging First Nations artists. Both women are using modern materials and design elements to create a distinct look to their work. Heather, a successful weaver, likes to mix it up and as a young artist she is exploring a variety of mediums. Her artwork reflects her two cultural identities, both as a contemporary feminist and a traditional artist.
Amber Walker, originally from California, is of Azec heritage and married into a Southern Tutchone family. Amber began her unique style of art by doodling. She doodled on anything she could get her hands on: books, binders, and shoes. A key focus in Amber’s work is about relationships between people and their environment. She specifically focuses on the stories of women of different circumstances on spiritual journeys.
Arlene Ness is originally from outside the Yukon and currently lives Northern BC. Northwest Coast Art surrounds Arlene. She saw it in jewelry her family wore and on the hand-carved masks and totem poles in her community. I invited Arlene because I liked how she works in so many different mediums, moving between wood carving, metalwork, and watercolour. She creates amazing pieces each time.
It is an honour to bring together this unique group of artists from various cultural backgrounds and experiences who each approach their work with great respect for Indigenous heritage and culture.