Meshell Melvin sews Chinook salmon for her Chu Niikwän Artist Residency at the Old Fire Hall on Sept. 6. Her work is inspired by the importance of the salmon’s role in the natural world. Melvin’s finished piece will be part of an exhibit at the Yukon Arts Centre community gallery starting Nov. 7. (Mike Thomas/Yukon Arts Centre)

Three artists, three work spaces, one river

Chu Niikwän Artist Residency wrapped up Sept. 15, exhibit scheduled for November

Work by three artists, completed in three workspaces all connected by one river will be highlighted in an upcoming show at the Yukon Arts Centre Community Gallery.

The trio were part of the three-week Chu Niikwän Artist Residency which wrapped up its second year Sept. 15. An exhibit is slated for November.

The residency is a partnership between the Yukon Arts Centre, Yukon Art Society and the Kwanlin Dün Cultural Centre.

It began in 2018 out of a desire by the groups to work together on an initiative incorporating the spaces they each have near the Yukon River (Chu Niikwän in Southern Tutchone), Yukon Arts Centre director of visual arts Mary Bradshaw said Sept. 9.

The KDCC has its culture cabins along the river near the start of Front Street, the Yukon Arts Centre has the Old Fire Hall on Front Street near Main Street and the Yukon Art Society has Arts Underground on Main Street near Third Avenue.

As Heather Steinhagen, executive director at Arts Underground, said Sept. 10 there are not a lot of residency opportunities for artists in the Yukon. This program — which began under the leadership of former Arts Underground executive director Courtney Holmes — aims to provide that opportunity.

The 2018 inaugural residency proved a success with artists Blake Lepine, Lia Fabre-Dimsdale and Nicole Bauberger’s work showcased in an exhibit just after the residency portion of the program ended. Rebecca Manias and Katie Newman were the curators for the 2018 program.

“It was more of a pilot,” Bradshaw said.

It was clear following the 2018 program that the residency was a success, but more time was needed to put the exhibit together.

“That was rushed,” Bradshaw said.

Hence in 2019, officials opted to take a couple of months between the end of the residency and the exhibit opening.

This year Meshell Melvin was selected as the advanced artist to work out of the Yukon Arts Centre’s Old Fire Hall with Shirley Adamson selected as the Indigenous advanced artist working out of KDCC and Talia Woodland as the emerging artist to be based out of Arts Underground.

Karly Leonard is working as the emerging curator in residence.

Each bring a unique background to the residency, Bradshaw said.

Melvin has been a professional artist for nearly 30 years working in drawing, printing, painting, animation, collage and embroidery. She’s also well-known for teaching art in the territory.

Melvin said Sept. 10 it was a rare opportunity to spend three weeks focused on a project around the Yukon River that prompted her to apply for the residency.

The Old Fire Hall is a beautiful space to work, she said, adding the ceiling height gives the building a “true sense of space”.

“It’s such a beautiful space,” she said.

There, she has spread out materials over seven eight-foot tables to produce nearly 400 embroidered Chinook salmon out of a “cross-pollination of textiles” over the three-week period.

The salmon will be displayed along the walls of the exhibit in November, though Melvin is still working on the finer details for how they will be hung. Essentially, she said, they will appear as if you’re looking across the water watching the salmon swim.

She proposed the project after looking at all the Yukon River provides with the salmon being such an integral part of that.

It’s the salmon that feed animals, people and the nearby forests, she said.

“The big circle of life is so apparent.”

Like many Yukoners, Melvin said she’s feeling the stress of climate change and this project has given her a place to put that energy.

Woodland was chosen as the emerging artist, though as Bradshaw pointed out Woodland’s name is already familiar to many Yukoners who have been to the Created At The Canyon exhibit at the Yukon Arts Centre. It features a video Woodland worked on with the Borealis Soul performances group she is part of.

Woodland is also a graduate of the Humber College film and television production program, where she was awarded the 2019 Women in Film Award.

Woodland said in an email that the residency represents a chance to practice and focus on a project in the territory as well as meeting other Yukon artists and having her film and dance work showcased as part of the exhibit.

Her project will feature footage of her growing up in the Yukon compiled into short stories.

She described it as “an ode to the land of the Yukon. I had such a good time growing up on the land here, but climate change is going to really change it for future generations.”

Videos will be projected during the exhibit with Woodland delivering her message that people need to think about how land is used.

She said she hopes those who take in the exhibit come away thinking about their impact on the environment and land, how it’s changing, what the future will look like and what people will do about it.

A well-known Indigenous artist who creates under the name of Zahra, Adamson has taken on a number of roles over the years in the territory, ranging from positions with the Ta’an Kwäch’än Council, as former grand chief of of the Council of Yukon First Nations, positions with Northern Native Broadcasting, Aboriginal People’s Television Network, Northern Vision Development, and Yukon Hospital Corporation among others.

“She’s a pillar in our community,” Bradshaw said.

Adamson uses paints, canvasses, found objects, bones, feathers, glass beads and hides in her artwork, it’s highlighted on the Yukon Art Society webpage.

“By blending Indigenous and contemporary mediums and styles her pieces convey a powerful message of cultural change,” it’s stated.

Finally, curator Leonard has a master of arts in information studies from McGill University and a bachelor of arts in urban studies from Concordia University in addition to studying art history abroad. She currently works as project archivist for the audio recording inventory project at Northern Native Broadcasting.

Bradshaw is hopeful those who have a chance to stop by the open studio hours each artist is offering get “a little peek” into the extensive behind-the-scenes work that goes into artwork, as well as getting a look at themes that emerge along the Yukon River.

Contact Stephanie Waddell at stephanie.waddell@yukon-news.com

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Yukonomist Keith Halliday
Yukonomist: Are they coming?

One of COVID-19’s big economic questions is whether it will prompt a… Continue reading

Yukon MP Larry Bagnell, along with Yukon health and education delegates, announce a new medical research initiative via a Zoom conference on Jan. 21. (Screen shot)
New medical research unit at Yukon University launched

The SPOR SUPPORT Unit will implement patient-first research practices

Yukon First Nation Education Directorate members Bill Bennett, community engagement coordinator and Mobile Therapeutic Unit team lead, left, and Katherine Alexander, director of policy and analytics, speak to the News about the Mobile Therapeutic Unit that will provide education and health support to students in the communities. (yfned.ca)
Mobile Therapeutic Unit will bring education, health support to Indigenous rural students

The mobile unit will begin travelling to communities in the coming weeks

Premier Sandy Silver, left, and Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Brendan Hanley, speak during a live stream in Whitehorse on January 20, about the new swish and gargle COVID-19 tests. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
Swish and spit COVID-19 test now available in Yukon

Vaccination efforts continue in Whitehorse and smaller communities in the territory

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police detachment in Faro photgraphed in 2016. Faro will receive a new RCMP detachment in 2022, replacing the decades-old building currently accommodating officers. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
Faro RCMP tagged for new detachment

Faro will receive a new RCMP detachment in 2022, replacing the decades-old… Continue reading

In a Jan. 18 announcement, the Yukon government said the shingles vaccine is now being publicly funded for Yukoners between age 65 and 70, while the HPV vaccine program has been expanded to all Yukoners up to and including age 26. (1213rf.com)
Changes made to shingles, HPV vaccine programs

Pharmacists in the Yukon can now provide the shingles vaccine and the… Continue reading

Parking attendant Const. Ouellet puts a parking ticket on the windshield of a vehicle in downtown Whitehorse on Dec. 6, 2018. The City of Whitehorse is hoping to write of nearly $300,000 in outstanding fees, bylaw fines and court fees, $20,225 of which is attributed to parking fines issued to non-Yukon license plates. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
City of Whitehorse could write off nearly $300,000

The City of Whitehorse could write off $294,345 in outstanding fees, bylaw… Continue reading

Grants available to address gender-based violence

Organizations could receive up to $200,000

In this illustration, artist-journalist Charles Fripp reveals the human side of tragedy on the Stikine trail to the Klondike in 1898. A man chases his partner around the tent with an axe, while a third man follows, attempting to intervene. (The Daily Graphic/July 27, 1898)
History Hunter: Charles Fripp — gold rush artist

The Alaskan coastal town of Wrangell was ill-equipped for the tide of… Continue reading

A man walks passed the polling place sign at city hall in Whitehorse on Oct. 18, 2018. While Whitehorse Mayor Dan Curtis is now setting his sights on the upcoming territorial election, other members of council are still pondering their election plans for the coming year. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Councillors undecided on election plans

Municipal vote set for Oct. 21

Whitehorse City Hall. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
City hall, briefly

A look at decicions made by Whitehorse city council this week.

A file photo of grizzly bear along the highway outside Dawson City. Yukon conservation officers euthanized a grizzly bear Jan. 15 that was originally sighted near Braeburn. (Alistair Maitland/Yukon News file)
Male grizzly euthanized near Braeburn

Yukon conservation officers have euthanized a grizzly bear that was originally sighted… Continue reading

Most Read