Indigenous artist Brent Hardesty (right) talks about his artwork “Preparing Our Youth With Knowledge” at the grand opening of the “Exhibition of Indigenous Art” at the McNeil Gallery in the Schwartz School of Business at StFX on October 23.

ANTIGONISH: A new exhibition at StFX of more than 45 pieces of artwork presents a more inclusive study through a collaboration with many Indigenous people, scholars and artists.

Presented by the StFX German Society, Rolf Bouman with Friends United, and the StFX Art Gallery, the exhibit will be on display at the McNeil Gallery in the Schwartz School of Business.

Featuring the works of Indigenous artists Jay Bell Redbird, David J. Brooks, Gordon Fiddler, Loretta Gould, Darren Julian, Amanda Julien, Alan Syliboy, Halina Stopyra, Brent Hardesty, and Chelsea Brooks, the third annual exhibition shines a light on Indigenous art.

“Art can be a path and an eccentric part on our path to reconciliation,” Marlis Lade, the StFX German language instructor said. “Indigenous art has existed since time and has helped shape the culture of our nation.”

She said it’s been only in recent years, Canada has begun to acknowledge the importance of Indigenous art.

“Art means to Indigenous people a deep connection between their culture, the environment, and history. Indigenous art is rich, diverse, multi-faceted and meaningful,” Lade said. “Try to understand and look through the eyes of an Indigenous artist.”

Hardesty was living in Toronto struggling, when one morning he went to go pray, and when he put down his tobacco and he opened his eyes, a thunderbird (robin) landed in front of him.

His spiritual name, Niiwin Binesi, which translates to “Four Birds,” was given to him following a spring ceremony.

In 2015, after returning to his community of Sagamok Anishnawbek, he transferred his graffiti skills and experience to acrylic woodland style paintings. The imagines Hardesty paints are the result of his transition and are also directly inspired by his people’s spiritual traditions and ceremonies.

“I would help a traditional healer in sweat lodge ceremonies – it changed my life in a good way. I learned all these stories directly from that place,” he said. “It made people upset with all the stuff I knew and I just felt as though I came under attack spiritually in my community. They cursed me, blood was poured over my driveway.”

Describing one of the highlight pieces of the exhibit “Preparing Our Youth With Knowledge,” Hardesty suggested there is a lot going on in this particular piece.

“There’s a man and his child, there’s a rabbit, and a baby thunderbird,” he said. “He’s teaching his son those songs to sing so he can help himself in life, and the song is sung four times.”

Included in the colourful artwork are spiritual doorways, the tree of life, a sweat lodge ceremony, roots that are stuck into the ground for support – many different aspects of the Indigenous culture.

Hardesty explained the colours are meaningful as well, yellow is a healing colour, red is a colour that’s very much liked by the spirits, blue is a colour for the west but it also represents the thunderbirds, white is a colour of the north – but also too his grandmother is white.

“I had a dream of her, she came to my dream, it was a full-moon that night, she was like this ghostly-image wearing all white and she had this white feather and she handed it towards me,” he said. “And I went to go grab it but she grabbed me and pulled me into her chest and hugged me. Since then, those grandmothers have been my helpers.”

Hardesty said he has a lot of dreams now, but until he was 25 he rarely ever dreamt, and if he did, it was a recurring nightmare.

“What I was told is that I was being protected,” he said. “Eventually, I did start dreaming and it was like a waterfall-avalanche of things.”

Photos by Drake Lowthers — Brent Hardesty stands in front of his artwork titled “Preparing Our Youth With Knowledge” during the opening of the “Exhibition of Indigenous Art” at StFX October 23. The imagines Hardesty paints are directly inspired by his people’s spiritual traditions and ceremonies.