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One bead at a time

Radical Stitch, a landmark exhibition of contemporary Indigenous beading, is on view now at Regina’s MacKenzie Art Gallery through August 28.

Barry Ace, Mino-bimaadiziwin

Barry Ace, Mino-bimaadiziwin (The Way of Good Life) - Men's Regalia and Mino-bimaadiziwin (The Way of Good Life) - Women’s Regalia, 2017, mixed media. Courtesy of the artist and Heffel Fine Art Auction House. MacKenzie Art Gallery, 2022. Photo by: Don Hall.

This summer, MacKenzie Art Gallery in Regina, Saskatchewan, presents Radical Stitcha gathering of more than 100 works by 48 artists in the largest showcase of contemporary Indigenous beading in Turtle Island (North America). The act of beading can be described quite simply: one by one, thousands of beads are strung and sewn together to make a design on a surface. The tactile quality and labour involved make for a particularly unique medium. For Indigenous peoples, beading holds power. 

Traditional beadwork has long been an integral part of Indigenous cultures. For thousands of years, carved bone, stone, porcupine quills and shells were used to create distinct designs and intricate patterns, beautifully adorning clothing, accessories and jewellery. The practice of beadwork, while remaining ever-present, evolved in face of discrimination and colonialization. Glass beads became the popular choice, while a growing number of contemporary Indigenous artists broadened what beadwork could mean and look like. These artists have adapted traditional techniques to subvert stereotypes and address current social issues through innovative means. Radical Stitch is an intergenerational celebration, inviting visitors to immerse themselves in the vibrancy of beadwork from various perspectives with many works both of and inspired by traditional powwow regalia. “Rooted in cultural and territorial specificity,” said John G. Hampton, Executive Director & CEO at the MacKenzie in a press statement, “beadwork is of particular importance to this moment in contemporary cultural dialogues […]” 

Installation view, Radical Stitch

Installation view, Radical Stitch, MacKenzie Art Gallery, 2022. Photo by: Don Hall.

Radical Stitch charts the breadth and impact of contemporary Indigenous beadwork, featuring works by Barry Ace, Dana Claxton, Shelley Niro, Christi Belcourt, Ruth Cuthand, Michael Belmore, Maria Hupfield, Taqralik Partridge and more. Collectively, these artists from across Turtle Island challenge the narrative of traditional beading as relics of history, instead “reflecting on beading as a place of encounter, knowledge transfer and acts of resistance—confronting centuries of historical oppression.” Reclaiming beadwork as an art form to be recognized and uplifted, as the exhibition sets forth, is a transformative, radical act.

Shelley Niro, 1779

Shelley Niro, 1779, 2017, mixed media sculpture with video, velvet, beads, stiletto heels. Gift of the Women’s Art Association of Hamilton.  MacKenzie Art Gallery, 2022. Photo by: Don Hall.

Curated by Sherry Farrel Racette, Michelle LaVallee and Cathy Mattes, Radical Stitch runs at the MacKenzie Art Gallery until August 28. Don’t miss Beading Together: Radical Stitch Symposium happening June 25. Those outside of Regina can still tune in virtually – learn about it here.

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