It’s all about Hope: An evening of art and friendship in Kahnawà:ke (by Heather Phipps)

Hope is being able to see light despite all the darkness.- Desmond Tutu

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On July 2nd, I had the pleasure of spending an evening with friends in Kahnawà:ke, attending the opening night of an art exhibit Lodges, Dams, and Longhouses featuring works by first nations artist Marian Snow. The exhibit is being held at the Kanien’kehá:ka Onkwawén:na Raotitióhkwa Language and Cultural Center. In Marian’s Snow’s words, she describes her artwork:

“My mix media drawings and sculptures address issues and tensions that exist between myself as a first nations woman, and our neighbours, Canada, Quebec and the United States. It explores ideas of identity, nation—hood, values, trust, and cooperation, as well as language, culture, ignorance and fear. I hope to create a “visual poetry” where the symbolism and icons of our nations reflect the actual climate of our society and provoke an internal dialogue on possible outcomes for our future that are based on mutual respect.”

The Language and Cultural Centre itself is a welcoming place at the heart of the community, offering adult Kanien’kéha language immersion classes, language enrichment, cultural activities, and social events. Such programs have contributed to the revival of the Kanien’kéha language and a strong sense of identity across generations. Walking down the halls filled works of art, I was deeply moved by the creativity and thought-provoking images. Marian’s works of art inspires us to think critically about social issues—such as the environment, language and identity. Upon entering the language and cultural centre, I instantly noticed a tremendous warmth and energy. The building was filled with laughter and lively conversations.

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In a conversation that evening with a group of people attending the exhibit, Marian commented that although there are elements of darkness in the works she creates, this exhibit is a reflection of the contemporary realities from her perspective, and she simply paints and draws what she sees in society. And yet, she commented that the there is always an element of light or hope in the works. “I am a hopeful person!” she exclaimed. Her comments, and the works themselves, made me think about the power of art to inspire hope and to serve as a catalyst for social change and justice. For example, in one of the powerful drawings titled Jingle, a young girl is dancing the Medicine Dance—a symbol of healing.

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As we continued to explore the art exhibit, Marian shared her process and creative inspiration. Before leaving the exhibit, Elder Amelia McGregor commented to the artist, “It’s all about hope!” I felt that we had all connected in this moment through our exchange and the aesthetic experience of discovering Marian’s art. I feel hopeful that the dedicated work of artists and cultural centres will continue to be a source of strength and healing—both for the present and future generations. Art also contributes to relationships, dialogue, and understanding both within and across cultures. As my colleague and friend, Margaret Amos, and I drove back across the bridge to Montreal, we were filled with a renewed energy following such a delightful evening with of friendship, stories, and laughter. This art exhibit will be open to the public from July 2nd-August 20th. The Kanien’kehá:ka Onkwawén:na Raotitióhkwa Language and Cultural Centre (http://www.korkahnawake.org) is located on Mohawk Territory in Kahnawà:ke, Quebec—a thirty minute drive from Montreal across Le Pont Mercier. If you are in the Montreal area this summer, I encourage you to visit the exhibit and discover for yourselves these inspiring and thought-provoking works of art!

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