Home » Diversity & Inclusion » Empowering Indigenous Voices » Beauty in the Beads: Radical Bead Artists From Indigenous Communities Take Centre Stage
Empowering Indigenous Voices

Beauty in the Beads: Radical Bead Artists From Indigenous Communities Take Centre Stage

Indigenous museum exhibit
Sponsored by:
Indigenous museum exhibit
Sponsored by:

Through the living medium of beading, TD Sponsored exhibition Radical Stitch features artists from Indigenous communities exploring the convergence of the traditional and the contemporary.

John Hampton headshot

John Hampton

Executive Director & CEO, Mackenzie Art Gallery

Art is culture, and in this age of reconciliation, reclaiming and honouring Indigenous Peoples in Canada means also elevating art from Indigenous communities. Art continues to evolve, and art from Indigenous Peoples has a lot to teach all Canadians about our past, our present, and our future. In Regina, Saskatchewan, the doors of the MacKenzie Art Gallery are welcoming visitors, not only to appreciate their considerable permanent collection of art from the Indigenous community, but also to experience for a limited time the most significant exhibition of contemporary beading in North America.

The exhibition is called Radical Stitch, and it brings together celebrated and innovative beading artists from all corners of the continent. “There are over two dozen nations represented among the 48 artists and multiple types of media,” says John Hampton, Executive Director and CEO of the MacKenzie Art Gallery. “The curators are trying to represent multiple directions in beading, looking at having representation from across Turtle Island. There’s a breadth that’s seen in the work of these artists from the Arctic to the Atlantic provinces and down to New Mexico. It’s both traditional and contemporary. You’ll see Jamie Okuma’s beaded Giuseppe Zanotti heels fit for the runway and you’ll see Lizzie Ittinuar’s Inuit women’s parkas with features designed for life in the Arctic. Beading is always evolving and there’s convergence between customary (or traditional) knowledge and new dialogues in contemporary art.”

Empowering Indigenous Voices - TD ready commitment

Stitching many voices into one song

Stuart Keeler headshot

Stuart Keeler

Senior Curator, TD Art & Corporate Heritage Collections

Further artists being featured in the exhibition include Catherine Blackburn (recently featured in Vogue magazine for her incredible modern beaded fashion design), Nico Williams (who made waves last year with a remarkable exhibition featuring stunning beaded replicas of everyday objects like shopping bags and washcloths), and Dana Claxton (celebrated interdisciplinary artist and Governor General’s Award winner who has been challenging Canadian minds for three decades).

There are many different viewpoints that can come forward and the authenticity of the artist becomes the vehicle for a conversation about social change and how to build an inclusive tomorrow

“Each artist is coming forward with their own traditions and interpreting them in their own interesting way,” says Stuart Keeler, Senior Curator of the TD Art and Corporate Heritage Collections. “The works within the exhibition are the combination of ancestral knowledge and contemporary art practices. It’s an examination and investigation of traditional forms of expression within a contemporary art lens. There are many different viewpoints that can come forward and the authenticity of the artist becomes the vehicle for a conversation about social change and how to build an inclusive tomorrow.”

Through the TD Ready Commitment, TD is a sponsor for the Radical Stitch exhibition. TD has itself maintained a collection of art from the Indigenous community since 1965, and Keeler emphasizes that supporting Indigenous Peoples and their transformative art projects like this one is an easy decision for the bank. “TD is committed to supporting and furthering Truth and Reconciliation,” says Keeler. “Through the TD Ready Commitment, the bank’s corporate citizenship platform, TD is interested in supporting programs that promote financial education, increase opportunities for youth, steward the environment, and help preserve and celebrate the arts and culture of Indigenous Peoples, in addition to broader arts and culture across Canada. We’re always looking for ways to authentically engage, to open conversation, and also to learn. Art is a really interesting platform because it does create that conversation. We learn about lived experiences through the artist and we’re able to talk about complex issues with art as the catalyst for the dialogue.”

An evolving vision for a changing world

Doris Bear headshot

Doris Bear

VP of Indigenous Banking, TD

This philosophy of opening conversation and helping to empower Indigenous Peoples and their voices plays out not only through the bank’s commitment to its support of the arts, but throughout the organization. “TD is committed to amplify and celebrate diverse voices from all backgrounds, including Indigenous Peoples,” says Doris Bear, VP of Indigenous Banking at TD. “Internally, we host events throughout the year to recognize Indigenous Peoples. These events are designed to collectively build awareness of the unique histories, cultures, contributions, and achievements of Indigenous Peoples while reflecting on Canada’s history and present-day truths.”

As TD continues to expand its outreach in providing banking and support to people in both urban and remote Indigenous communities, Bear sees the elevation of the arts through exhibitions like Radical Stitch as an integral part of the larger mission. “This is one of many ways TD supports Truth and Reconciliation,” says Bear. “It’s important that we support Indigenous Peoples and that we walk together to pave the way for future generations. We can provide this support by giving them a platform to share their art and their lived experiences.”

Meaning and beauty

There’s no doubt that Radical Stitch is an important and powerful statement in the ongoing dialogue of Canada’s cultural evolution. It’s a bold show at a moment that’s primed for a new understanding of Indigenous Peoples, their culture, and a contemporary experience through an artistic lens. At the same time, however, it should be emphasized that this is also an opportunity for sheer delight in the vibrancy and beauty of art in Canada.

“The guiding principle that the curators used is that they wanted to show excellence, to show pieces that demonstrate the immense skill and beauty, as well as the depth, of the practice of beading,” says Hampton. “TD’s involvement was critical in realizing that vision and scope. And there’s something in here that will speak to every audience. No matter the level of your awareness of art or of beading, you’ll be able to see the beauty here and to find something that will spark your interest.”

Empowering Indigenous Voices - TD ready commitment
Next article