Social Action: Storytelling, cultural knowledge and connection through art

Leah Dorion and Gary Sutton

Social Action: Storytelling, cultural knowledge and connection through art

Strathcona County Art Gallery@501 is celebrating 10 years of inclusive arts and culture opportunities and is now hosting a virtual exhibition experience, Walking Gently: Spirit Stories and the 13 Moons, featuring two Métis artists. We had the opportunity to ask the artists what it meant to them to share cultural knowledge and connection through their paintings.

Leah Dorion is a Métis artist from Prince Albert, Saskatchewan. Dorion works as a teacher, painter, filmmaker and writer. She shares ancestral stories of Indigenous 13 moon teachings through decorative, symbolic paintings of traditional ceremonies and lunar cycles, with accompanying poetry.

Artist Leah Dorion

What does it mean to you to share cultural knowledge as a Métis artist? 

Leah- “For me, it’s about being Métis. I come from a visual storytelling background, our clothing, our way of being, it’s all visual and verbal communication. So to put things down to images is such a really good way to transfer this knowledge. For me, I found it’s a way to tell that story and help share a Métis way of being and knowing. For instance, the teachings around the moon – one of the things I found that the art gallery did was help me share connection as Métis women and how we have a relationship with the moon as part of creation. While I won’t speak for everyone, I want to share my view on how I see the moon and the cycles of nature. I think its so fulfilling to the spirit to be creative and have that connection to the creator, as a woman in particular. And that maybe it will inspire others to view the world differently - that’s my goal.”

Gary Sutton is a Métis artist from Redwood Meadows, Alberta. He is inspired by the Professional Native Indian Artists Incorporation and paints in the Woodland Style, also known as legend or medicine painting. Sutton creates powerful storytelling by painting stylized animals and symbols representing the character and spirit of each person he paints.

Artist Gary Sutton

How do symbols play a role in the storytelling of your artwork?

Gary- “Symbolism is a fundamental part of my paintings, without it, my work would be beautiful but empty, unfulfilling. For the past number years I have focused on representing the ‘spirit’ of people’s families or themselves, their stories and the relationships in their lives using the Woodland Style, with which I have always had a deep connection to. The figurative subject matter is usually based on an individuals’ personality characteristics, interests, relations or unspoken thoughts. So far, the conversations I have had have been a wonderful experience and the process seems to spark a fire in my clients when they pause and reflect on their inner circle. In the end, the completed paintings are often considered family heirlooms, which is quite an honour for me.”

Walking Gently: Spirit Stories and the 13 Moons is open virtually on the Gallery@501 webpages from March 11 to April 24, 2021.

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