Downtown Edmonton contemporary arts centre showcases — and is led by — Indigenous artists

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Downtown Edmonton contemporary arts centre showcases Indigenous artists
A new contemporary arts centre is open in downtown Edmonton. As Morgan Black explains, the space welcomes you to explore the deep roots of Indigenous culture in our city. – Oct 12, 2020

A new art centre in Edmonton is focused on supporting the work of Indigenous artists.

The Ociciwan Contemporary Arts Centre features the art of both established and current creatives.

“Ociciwan” comes from the Cree word that means “the current comes from there.” The Indigenous-led collective chose the name to represent the North Saskatchewan River.

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Executive director Becca Taylor said the group worked with the city to re-design the space (formerly the iHuman building) so that it would fit the needs of an Indigenous organization.

“We needed an exhibition space but we also needed to think about the ways in which we gather as Indigenous people,” Taylor said.

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“A top priority became having a kitchen because we gather over food a lot — and having a community space to gather and have conversations.”

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The centre’s artwork features a variety of Indigenous experiences, including depictions of Canadian history such as the smallpox epidemic and residential schools.

“It looks at our history and the way colonialization has really affected the Indigenous population, but also the resiliency of Indigenous people and the honouring of our spirits and community within the exhibition,” Taylor said.

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The exhibit opened in September, after delays due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Its first exhibit includes artists with roots in Edmonton.

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“We wanted to honour our home, the place we are in, and highlight the incredible talent that is here,” Taylor said. “You’ll see paintings, film, beading, sculpture and performance.”

Lana Whiskeyjack is one artist highlighted in the exhibition. Whiskeyjack’s research, writing and art explores the “paradoxes of what it means to be nehiyaw (Cree) and iskwew (woman) in a Western culture and society.

“A lot of the intention and purpose of my work isn’t art for art’s sake; it’s art for community and future generations.

“It’s a constant response of my experiences as an Indigenous woman.”

Whiskeyjack said the space is also a place of healing.

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Edmonton park features Indigenous art

“It’s a space I don’t have to explain myself to. It has elder involvement and knows the protocols and history of the ways of knowing and being of Indigenous people in this land,” she said.

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“It’s a space based in our Indigenous worldviews and values. It’s where we can honour ourselves as human beings.”

Will host four exhibits a year. You can book a visit to Ociciwan here.

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