The work of a Yukon artist is gaining a national audience with an exhibit at the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa.
Krystle Silverfox is one of five shortlisted finalists for the 2022 Sobey Art Award, with each finalist’s work now featured in an exhibit that will continue until March 12, 2023 at the gallery.
The award is described as the pre-eminent prize for emerging Canadian artists with one finalist from each of five regions across the country, including the Atlantic provinces, Quebec, Ontario, the Prairies, the North and the West Coast/Yukon.
In a statement about the exhibit, award officials said: “This special exhibition is rooted in the lived experience of the five shortlisted artists, and the work on display reflects their diverse backgrounds and unique ways of seeing, thinking and being in the world, expanding on what it means to be a ‘Canadian’ artist working on Turtle Island.
“The multidisciplinary projects encompass a range of creative practices, from performance to activism, to installation, sculpture, photography and institutional critique.”
Representing the West Coast/Yukon region is special for Silverfox given her personal connections to both areas.
A member of the Selkirk First Nation (Wolf Clan) in the territory, Silverfox grew up in Vancouver and now lives in Whitehorse, having also spent time living in Dawson before moving to Whitehorse. She’s earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts in visual arts, a Bachelor of Arts in gender, race, sexuality and social justice, both at the University of British Columbia, and holds a Master of Fine Arts in interdisciplinary studies from Simon Fraser University.
“I am absolutely thrilled to be representing (the West Coast/Yukon region),” she said in an Oct. 27 interview.
In her artwork, Silverfox uses different materials, methodologies, and symbols to create conceptual art. She is inspired by Indigenous feminism, trans-nationalism, de-colonialism, activism and lived experience, it was noted in a press release.
For the show at the national gallery, Silverfox prepared two new pieces and showcased All That Glitters Is Not Gold, which she created as her final project for her MFA.
All That Glitters is Not Gold deals with identity, land and resource extraction with a Hudson’s Bay Company blanket that refers to Fort Selkirk, which had been a trading post and an important site for the Selkirk First Nations. The blanket is ripped as a reference to the traditional ceremonies. Copper pennies at the bottom of the blanket reference the copper mines within First Nations’ traditional territoritories in the Yukon.
As Silverfox stated in the piece’s nomination for the Yukon Prize in 2021, the title “is meant to acknowledge complex relationships between First Nations and mining corporations.” It also features a cedar frame to mimic hide tanning and fringe to “ground the works to the land”.
Landmarks is a piece that features four black and white images that appear abstract, but actually come from images of herself.
Her other new piece — Copper + Concrete — also makes use of a blanket, this one red and frayed at the bottom with concrete blocks arranged on top.
While creating each piece brought different challenges and efforts — pulling apart a blanket over a three-week period can be both labour intensive and monotonous, for example — one of the bigger challenges came with the Landmarks piece when Silverfox wasn’t able to find a local printing company that could print and frame her pieces.
“It’s complicated,” she said in an interview, noting she ended up having to have the pieces printed and framed in Toronto and then transported to Ottawa for the exhibit.
That’s one of the challenges that comes with moving north, she said.
When she was living in Vancouver there was a dedicated photo studio she was able to work with on photography pieces.
But, Silverfox said, like many in the North, she’s been able to ask others for advice and find ways to get supplies and services elsewhere when needed.
Seeing her work displayed in the National Gallery has been exciting.
“The display feels like the prize,” she said.
As a finalist, Silverfox is already guaranteed $25,000. Being named the winner would carry a $100,000 prize in addition to her work being part of the exhibit. The winner will be announced on Nov. 16.
While Silverfox waits for the announcement on the Sobey prize, she’s also looking ahead to her next major project, a show scheduled for November and December 2023 at the ODD Gallery in Dawson.
The project will incorporate neon and LED lights as part of a sculpture exhibit around the theme of the Raven Steals the Light legend about the Raven bringing light to the world.
This project too will likely involve working with professionals Outside on the lighting, something Silverfox said she’ll be looking into soon.
“It’s such a big project,” she said. “It’s my first solo show so I’m very excited.”
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