Seeking reconciliation through multicultural art

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Photo essay

February 7, 2018 | Artbeat | Volume 22 Issue 04
Nicolien Klassen-Wiebe, Manitoba Correspondent
Art by Ovide Charlette of the Opaskwayak First Nation. (Photo by Nicolien Klassen-Wiebe)

Around 200 people gathered at the Mennonite Heritage Centre Gallery on Jan. 26 to celebrate the opening of Reconciliation Through the Arts, an exhibition of Indigenous and settler art that explores the history and present reality of colonization in Canada and different visions of reconciliation.

Clairissa Kelly, coordinator of the Peguis Post-Secondary Transition Program at Canadian Mennonite University (CMU), and Marlene Gallagher, a sessional lecturer and member of the Speakers Bureau for the Treaty Relations Commission of Manitoba, organized the exhibition. After they took students to the Stories in Art From Iraqi Kurdistan exhibit at the gallery in 2016 and connected with the themes of oppression they saw there, they were inspired to display the stories of Indigenous artists.

Kelly and Gallagher gathered artwork from both Indigenous and settler artists along with collaborations between the two.

“It is our hope that the exhibit will generate intercultural dialogue with Indigenous and settler communities,” say Kelly and Gallagher.


Jochebed Giesbrecht, Laura Carr-Pries and Allegra Friesen Epp stand around Tracy Fehr's installation of clay bowls. Fehr encourages visitors to take a bowl in honour of an important woman in their life and leave a note about the woman in its place. (Photo by Nicolien Klassen-Wiebe)

Students of the Peguis program, CMU students, faculty and staff, residential school survivors, and Kelly and Gallagher themselves are just a few of the artists that make up the vast array of contributors to the exhibition.

The exhibition’s opening event consisted of addresses from gallery curator Ray Dirks, Kelly, Gallagher, and Peter Friesen, a Mennonite settler involved in helping organize the exhibit. Chloe Mallett, Kelly’s daughter, danced while musician Ray “Coco” Stevenson played the drum and sang. Rosanna Deerchild of CBC Radio One’s Unreserved program performed spoken word from her book of poetry, Calling Down the Sky. Kelly closed the program by presenting roses to all the artists present at the opening, and passing out tobacco ties to the large crowd, encouraging people to pass on the ties to those who share their stories with them.

Reconciliation Through the Arts runs until March 10, 2018.

Art by Ovide Charlette of the Opaskwayak First Nation. (Photo by Nicolien Klassen-Wiebe)

Rosanna Deerchild, host of CBC Radio One's Unreserved, reads a poem from her book Calling Down the Sky. The book tells the story of residential schools in Canada and her own mother's experiences and struggles as a generational survivor. (Photo by Nicolien Klassen-Wiebe)

Bryn Friesen Epp of Home Street Mennonite Church in Winnipeg, adds a leaf to a collaboratively decorated tree. Each leaf contains a gallery visitor's hope for reconciliation and commitments to taking part in it. (Photo by Nicolien Klassen-Wiebe)

Clairissa Kelly and Marlene Gallagher organized the Reconciliation Through the Arts exhibition. (Photo by Nicolien Klassen-Wiebe)

Clairissa Kelly, right, her mother Marie, and her Grandmother Lorraine, seated, are pictured in front of 'Granny Lorraine.' Kelly, coordinator of the Peguis Post-Secondary Transition Program at Canadian Mennonite University (CMU), and Rick Unger, a CMU maintenance technician, used acid on metal and etching techniques to create the rusted portrait. (Photo by Nicolien Klassen-Wiebe)

Jochebed Giesbrecht, Laura Carr-Pries and Allegra Friesen Epp stand around Tracy Fehr's installation of clay bowls. Fehr encourages visitors to take a bowl in honour of an important woman in their life and leave a note about the woman in its place. (Photo by Nicolien Klassen-Wiebe)

A collection of photographs and pieces of abandoned Canadian residential schools. (Photo by Nicolien Klassen-Wiebe)

A dream catcher by exhibition co-organizer Marlene Gallagher. (Photo by Nicolien Klassen-Wiebe)

Clairissa Kelly smudges the Mennonite Heritage Centre Gallery in preparation for the exhibition's opening event. (Photo by Ray Dirks)

Clairissa Kelly gives roses to the many different artists involved in the Reconciliation through the Arts exhibition. Over 15 artists were involved in creating the many diverse pieces on display. (Photo by Ray Dirks)

Clairissa Kelly’s daughter, Chloe Mallett, dances for a large audience at the exhibition’s opening event. (Photo by Ray Dirks)

Art by Ojibwe artist Trip Charbs. (Photo by Nicolien Klassen-Wiebe)

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