There are few birthdays quite as significant as your twentieth – the moment when you leave behind your heady teenage years and begin to face adulthood in full. For an artist-run centre, turning twenty is a momentous occasion especially if that organization is as significant as Urban Shaman Contemporary Aboriginal Art. Founded in 1996 by a group of artists and cultural workers including Louis Ogemah, Lita Fontaine, and Liz Barron, today Urban Shaman remains one of only three artist-run centres in Canada dedicated exclusively to the support and promotion of Indigenous art and artists. (Sakewewak Artists Collective Inc. in Regina and Tribe Inc. in Saskatoon are the other two.)
Nadia Myre, Meditations on Red #4, 2013
Organized by Urban Shaman’s Director Daina Warren, The Fire Throws Sparks celebrates the gallery’s notable milestone while featuring some of the artists who have helped ‘spark’ the space’s development over the past two decades. As with most group shows, some works in the exhibition are stronger than others, with highlights here including selections from Nadia Myre’s Meditations on Red series, Scott Benesiinaabandan’s black and white self-portraits, and Rebecca Belmore’s piece Mixed Blessing. Some older works are revisited as well and I’ll admit that I felt something catch in my throat upon seeing Lita Fontaine’s 2000 installation The Woman’s Drum once more.
While there have certainly been ups and downs over Urban Shaman’s history, the following twenty years now stretch out ahead and I look forward to what this next stage of maturity will bring to the gallery. Happy birthday, Urban Shaman, keep on stoking that fire.
Urban Shaman Contemporary Aboriginal Art: http://urbanshaman.org/
The Fire Throws Sparks continues until June 30.
Jenny Western is a curator, writer, and educator who lives in Winnipeg. She can be followed on Twitter @WesternJenny.
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