Come for the art, stay for the healing
Guest post by Mina Guan
This summer, I am the Collections and Visitor Engagement Assistant at the UVic Legacy Art Gallery Downtown. Before beginning my work there as a UVic Work Experience Program student, I had never even visited the space before. My duties now include cataloguing new items for the collection, linking object images into the gallery databases, and engaging with visitors at the front desk of the current exhibition, On Beaded Ground.
Even though I have transferable skills from my Linguistics program, a year of attending school online has made jumping back into a highly social role more difficult than I thought. With all these sudden shifts in motion, I needed to find something that would help ground me.
My unforeseen hero? The gallery space itself.
On Beaded Ground is curated by Lorilee Wastasecoot, Legacy’s Curator of Indigenous Art and Engagement. It features the works of 10 contemporary Indigenous artists as well as historical works from the Legacy Collection. It celebrates the resurgence of Indigenous beading and its relationship to human connections, land, storytelling, and spirit worlds. Each piece is thoughtfully curated. Like a beaded work itself, individual pieces come together to create a versatile display of colour, culture, and craft.
One of the most frequent comments I get at the front desk is about the positive energy that permeates the space. As I engage with visitors, artists, and the artworks, I learn how beading is a medicine. In an interview for a CBC article, Lorilee says that “through beading, the artists become whole again.”
For the artists, beading is a way to share stories and reclaim cultural practices. As someone who has never beaded, I was curious how the show would affect me. It wasn’t until I went through the exhibit myself that I understood. Spending time in the gallery makes me feel rejuvenated, renewed, and happy.
The exhibit is coloured not only by the beads but also by the rich stories each piece carries. Some, being unethically acquired works, have undocumented origins, leaving the curators to rely on their personal research to determine their creators. Others are contemporary homages to ancestors and/or pop culture. The display of unknown items in conversation with the contemporary pieces speak to the vitality of Indigenous beading and the potency of its joy-bringing spirit. There is life in each bead and it survives to this day.
For staff meetings, we gather in the gallery space. I listen to colleagues plan, problem solve, and exchange ideas while sitting next to works that span time and space. I imagine that the beads transmit their good energy to my coworkers and I feel comforted that our visitors can pick up on this!
This has been a year of incredible turbulence. Any ounce of healing is heartily welcome, whether that be through something as big as a landscape or through something as small as a bead. On Beaded Ground has helped me overcome the shifts in my routine. What are some spaces that help you heal?