Barkhouse named Indigenous Arts Award laureate
By Jenn Watt
the past 30 years, artist Mary Anne Barkhouse has been examining issues
crucial to our survival as a species – our stewardship of the land and
water, the legacy of colonialism on the people, and ways forward, by
building bridges and starting important conversations.
Her work, which includes depictions of the creatures familiar to most of us from our natural environment, has been exhibited across Canada and the United States, inspiring viewers to look at our world from a new perspective.
honour the impact of her work, on June 25, the Ontario Arts Council
announced that Barkhouse, who lives and works in the Gelert area, would
be named the 2020 recipient of the Indigenous Arts Award.
The award includes a $10,000 prize, certificate and Indigenous-designed blanket. The recipient also names an emerging artist to receive a $2,500 prize. Barkhouse chose Kawartha-based visual artist Olivia Whetung.
Barkhouse said after months of self-isolation due to the COVID-19 pandemic, news of the award reconnected her to her audience and provided the kind of feedback she’s been missing.
“It is, of course, a great honour and a surprise … especially given the circumstances we have right now with isolation, it’s a really nice acknowledgement that the work that I’m doing is being heard and is being understood at the different levels that I’m presenting at to a variety of audiences,” she said in an interview with the Minden Times.
Her work includes installations in both outdoor and indoor spaces, including the National Gallery of Canada, the Banff Centre for the Arts, Canadian Museum of History and Carleton University, among many others. She graduated from the Ontario College of Art and Design in 1991.
Family is at the root of Barkhouse’s interest in ecological preservation. Her family on her mother’s side is from the Nimpkish band of the Kwakiutl First Nation in British Columbia, and her father’s side is of German and British descent from Nova Scotia.
Her grandfather on her mother’s side was a
commercial fisherman, her paternal grandfather was a farmer. She said
they both instilled in her the message: we look after the land and it
looks after us.
“It’s just something that was really ingrained in my upbringing, … that is why that has arisen as a constant thread through my work,” she said.
Barkhouse was living and working in Toronto when she came upon the Haliburton Highlands thanks to a connection with artist Lois Betteridge, who taught at the Haliburton School of Art + Design. As a sculptor, Barkhouse said she wanted to work with Betteridge, renowned for her metalwork, who only taught in Haliburton.
not only taught at the summer school, but she also had a cabin up in
the Gooderham area,” she said. “I started studying with her and became a
friend, and started hanging out at her cabin.”
That introduction led to Barkhouse electing to move to Minden Hills, where she has lived for more than two decades. The decision influenced the direction of the work she would go on to create.
“I have always done [art] about
landscape, about Indigenous values, connected with all sorts of issues
of the land, but then I moved into this area and became very well
acquainted with beavers – in a good way,” she laughed. “I’ve had the
same challenges that a lot of people do with beaver activity, but I
co-exist with them. The beavers are wonderful neighbours. It’s not just
that beavers feature in my artwork, but as one of the keystone species
they feature because of the greater implications to do with our
relationship with land. That’s why this area really did have a profound
effect on the direction that my artwork took.”
The sculptor uses facets of animal behaviour to tell stories and to discuss contentious topics, often with a playful tone.
series Early Morning Wolf Stretching Exercises, which included
hand-drawn images of wolves doing the kind of stretches dog owners would
recognize from their own pets at home, was a way for Barkhouse to
discuss the commonalities between all of us.
She said the works were done during a time when political debate was heated around land rights in British Columbia in the late 1980s, early 1990s, as the public was becoming aware that parts of that province were not covered by treaty. The unease that accompanied what was new knowledge for many led to racism and backlash toward the Indigenous peoples of the area.
“I was thinking of going back to what is important for people and animals and everything is having a stable home. And a stable ecosystem and ... there’s a similarity that runs through all of us,” she said.
One thing we certainly all have in common – humans and animals alike – is our love of a good stretch in the morning.
“What is it that we share in common that we can look at each other as people and say, OK, we need to have these discussions and figure it out without everything being black and white. That’s where wolf stretching came in. I thought, if you look at things, everyone needs to get up and stretch in the morning … there’s this commonality that we all have.”
Barkhouse said her work is an avenue for discussion and for building bridges between people.
“I see my role as being a storyteller and telling the story of my place in history from my place geographically and telling stories of my family and my communities, of which Haliburton is a big part,” she said.
She hopes that her winning the Indigenous Arts Award raises the profile of the arts in the Highlands community, which she notes includes that of performers, writers, and visual artists.
“It’s really wonderful and I’m just really happy to be part of this community.”
When galleries begin to reopen, you can check out Barkhouse’s work at the National Gallery of Canada, at the Canadian Museum of History, and Carleton University. She is also scheduled to exhibit her work at the Agnes Jamieson Gallery next year. In the meantime, you can see her sculpture, Gelert, at the Haliburton Sculpture Forest; her work Esker in Peterborough; or check out her website https://maryannebarkhouse.ca.