Local artist and art professor Kevin McKenzie’s “ayîkisis” exhibit will run at the Art Gallery of Southwestern Manitoba from July 14 through Sept. 10.Local artist and art professor Kevin McKenzie’s “ayîkisis” exhibit will run at the Art Gallery of Southwestern Manitoba from July 14 through Sept. 10.Miranda Leybourne, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Jul 07, 2022 at 07:54

By Miranda Leybourne, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

The juxtaposition of traditional and contemporary, and of sacred and familiar, will soon be on display at the Art Gallery of Southwestern Manitoba.

It’s the first time the work of Kevin McKenzie, a Brandon-based Cree and Métis artist, has been featured at the gallery. Entitled “ayîkisis,” the Plains Cree word for “tadpole,” the exhibit features pieces from McKenzie’s 30-year career as an artist. The exhibit will be on display from July 14 through Sept. 10.

McKenzie, who is also an assistant professor in the IshKaabatens Waasa Gaa Inaabateg department of visual and Aboriginal art at Brandon University, showed his work last year at the University of Regina’s Fifth Parallel Gallery. His art has been featured in galleries all over North America and to international audiences as well, including at the National Gallery of Canada and the National Museum of the American Indian at the Smithsonian Institute.

Now, he’s excited to show his work in his hometown, bringing his blend of sacred and ceremonial objects from Indigenous cultures together with similar pieces from colonial cultures. His older work will also be featured, with its hallmark bison skulls covered in neon or painted like hotrods. Not as many people as usual got to see his work in Regina due to COVID-19 restrictions, so McKenzie is looking forward to it being on display this summer in Brandon.

The exhibit in Brandon will feature “Seventeen,” the work that was on display in Regina, but will also consist of extra work that McKenzie said offsets that series.

“There’s going to be some work from my past that we’ve introduced into the exhibition that will complement the work they already have.”

Part of the new work that will be featured in the Brandon exhibit includes hockey gear made from sacred and traditional Indigenous media, such as deer skin and elk rawhide. The art came from research that McKenzie was doing which became very personal to him, touching on his family history, truth and reconciliation and the trauma faced by Indigenous people in Canada.

He called the exhibit in Regina “Seventeen” because that’s how old he was when his father, a survivor of the Lebret (Qu’Appelle) Indian Industrial Residential School in Saskatchewan, died. McKenzie’s father had a passion for Indigenous hockey, and would often take his children to games.

“These hockey players were our heroes — modern-day warriors that we looked up to. I wanted to bring that notion of the hockey experience with my father, but the Indigenous experience.”

One major event that happened that inspired McKenzie to use traditional materials as opposed to the modern ones he was accustomed to using was a conversation he had with Barb Blind, a knowledge keeper at Brandon University, when they were making traditional rattles and drums, using elk rawhide.

“I was telling Barb that I had worked with polyurethane and carbon fibre and all these really high-tech materials before in my previous work. When I was working with the elk rawhide, I mentioned to Barb that it reminded me of the high-tech material, like the carbon fibre, and she said ‘No, no, this is the high-tech material.’”

It was such a profound statement, McKenzie said, that he felt inspired to leave behind the actual hockey paraphernalia he was going to use and simply make a mould of it using elk rawhide. It’s both a reconstruction and deconstruction of hockey gear worked in elk rawhide and stitched together with red sinew.

Once he had his prototype, McKenzie knew he wanted to continue using the process to make more pieces. As a process-based artist, McKenzie knew that working with traditional material meant he was crossing a threshold in his career. He said he’s very comfortable using the materials now.

“It was a way of me actually rediscovering my own culture … in practising my traditional work, it keeps me grounded in my Indigenous community.”

Whether it’s his older work featuring modern materials or his new pieces that represent modern objects made with traditional ones, McKenzie said he always wants his art to make a statement.

“At this point in my life, it’s really important for me to showcase my Indigenous culture and me, myself, as an Indigenous person, and to showcase who I am and where I’m from and what I can do with the materials I’m working with.”

Lucie Lederhendler, the curator at the AGSM, said McKenzie’s exhibit has incredible potential to have an impact on someone who has never really been interested in art before.

“There are all of these really recognizable icons in there in the older work … there will be something for someone to relate to on every level.”

McKenzie is currently working on a public art sculpture at Brandon University to honour truth and reconciliation. He has also teamed up with Broden Halcrow-Ducharme, a recent graduate of Assiniboine Community College, to produce a short documentary about the making of the work that will be shown in the exhibit this summer.

The opening reception for “ayîkisis” will be held at the gallery at 7 p.m. on July 14, followed by a lunch-and-look with McKenzie on July 15.

This item reprinted with permission from The Sun, Brandon, Manitoba