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Faye HeavyShield: The Body Leaves a Trace

By: Samantha Lance

Second-year student in the Master of Visual Studies in Curatorial Studies program at U of T

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Can we learn to listen to the stories that objects hold? How do we connect to ancestral

knowledge and generations that came before us? Faye HeavyShield is an artist, mentor, and

writer a part of the Kainai (Blood) Nation and Blackfoot Confederacy in Southern Alberta. She

creates installations, drawings, and sculptures to explore memory, time, and familial relations.


Faye HeavyShield in front of her exhibition, Confluences at the Pulitzer Arts Center. Courtesy of the Pulitzer Arts Foundation. Published on March 17, 2023. Source.

In her sculptural installation, Body of Land (2002-2010), HeavyShield reflected on how one’s

body can become a map and a way of thinking through one’s relationship with home. She first

took close-up photographs of her skin and then shaped them into paper cones to represent tipis. When they were first presented as an undulating landscape on the wall in the National Gallery of Canada, she said that, “my environment includes family, language/narrative, the land. Each portrait is a body…of knowledge, histories and stories both real and imagined.”¹ Interestingly, she decided to evolve this installation for her retrospective exhibition at the Mackenzie Art Gallery (October 2022 – February 2023). The curator of the show, Felicia Gay introduced her to The Comeback Society, a non-profit organization that promotes Indigenous voices and culture through community engagement and educational programming.


Faye HeavyShield. Body of Land. 2002-2010. Sculpture. Electrostatic prints on paper. ©National Gallery of Canada. Source.

Since HeavyShield saw Body of Land as a “living piece”, she invited art students from four

different high schools in Regina, Saskatchewan to participate in the re-creation of the

installation.² Following her footsteps, the young collaborators took detailed images of their skin and made their own abstract lodges to be added to the nomadic landscape. Felicia Gay also mentioned that HeavyShield shared with the students, “No matter where you are, you belong somewhere. You belong here. You are connected to place… If you have that understanding that you belong here, this place holds your DNA and your blood that occurred over thousands of years.”³ In moments of longing for community and kinship, HeavyShield reminded the youth that they carry home inside of them wherever they go.


She also explored intergenerational links in her sculptural installation, Aapaskaiyaawa (They are Dancing) (2002). In the gallery space, she hung twelve yellow canvas forms from the ceiling and positioned them in a half-circle to look like a family gathering or community of all ages engaged in conversation. In relation to Body of Land, the artist shaped these minimalistic sculptures to suggest individuals wearing hooded garments with a conical top similar to a tipi. Felicia Gay further explained that, “They really represent the ancestors but it also points to Blackfoot worldview epistemology around time, relationality, our relatives. There is no linear time – there’s no beginning and end. It’s like you can move in and out of time. Although you may think your ancestors as occurring in the past, they can also happen in the present and in the future.”


Since knowledge transfer is a key part of HeavyShield’s practice, Aapaskaiyaawa (They are

Dancing) becomes the storyteller and signifier of generations before. Inspired by the memories of her parents who lived with grace, these floating sculptures embody the celebrations and sorrows within their gentle movements. Professor Andrea Witcomb at Deakin University also pointed out, “if we look at the role that objects play in causing memory through sensory experiences, objects become the agent, taking those who encounter them on an involuntary journey back through time.” Perhaps, to picture oneself in this space of contemplation would be to join the dance and imagine feeling the spirit of those long gone still surround you.


Faye HeavyShield. Aapaskaiyaawa (They are Dancing). 2002. Acrylic on canvas, beads and plastic filament. Installation view at the MacKenzie Art Gallery, Regina (collection of MAG, Regina; photo by Don Hall, courtesy MAG). Source.

As Laurence Gourievidis, a professor and cultural historian, once said that museums and

galleries are sites where memory is at work, HeavyShield made space for intimate reflections and recollections to take place among viewers and participants. With an invitation to consider one’s own lineage while encountering these installations, the “affective” power of these objects can transfer from artist to visitor. Art historian Susan Best described, “affect is an originary trace, an inherited mapping of the body and its expressive potential that becomes the stuff of signification.”¹⁰ Like HeavyShield, if we adopt a Blackfoot worldview and understand that stories carry their own lifeforce,¹¹ perhaps those hidden histories and faded memories will one day pass through us.



Notes


1 “Body of Land,” National Gallery of Canada, accessed December 13, 2023,

2 MacKenzie Art Gallery, “Conversation with Faye HeavyShield, Kristy Trinier, and Felicia Gay,” YouTube, November 18, 2022, video, https://youtu.be/l-xIMcIVCIU?si=s6468WbyqVIME--P.

3 MacKenzie Art Gallery, “The Art of Faye HeavyShield - Curator Walkthrough Video,” YouTube, January 25, 2023, video, https://youtu.be/w7TgP6F4yNU?si=18aCGNdeCEERKRlQ.

4 “Faye HeavyShield: Aapaskaiyaawa (They Are Dancing),” Mackenzie Art Gallery, accessed December 13, 2023, https://mackenzie.art/learn/studio-sundays/faye-heavyshield-aapaskaiyaawa-they-are-dancing/.

5 Ibid.

6 MacKenzie Art Gallery, “The Art of Faye HeavyShield - Curator Walkthrough Video,” YouTube, January 25, 2023, video, https://youtu.be/w7TgP6F4yNU?si=18aCGNdeCEERKRlQ.

7 MacKenzie Art Gallery, “Conversation with Faye HeavyShield, Kristy Trinier, and Felicia Gay,” YouTube, November 18, 2022, video, https://youtu.be/l-xIMcIVCIU?si=s6468WbyqVIME--P.

8 Andrea Witcomb, “Using Souvenirs to Rethink How We Tell Histories of Migration: Some Thoughts,” in Narrating Objects, Collecting Stories: Essays in Honour of Professor Susan M. Pearce, 45, 2012, https://doi.org/10.4324/9780203120125.

9 Laurence Gourievidis, “Representing Migration in Museums: History, Diversity and the Politics of Memory,” in Museums and Migration, 13, (United Kingdom: Routledge, 2014), https://doi.org/10.4324/9781315774596-7.

10 Susan Best, “What Is Affect? Considering the Affective Dimension of Contemporary Installation Art,” Australian and New Zealand Journal of Art 2/3, no. 2/1 (2002): 220, https://doi.org/10.1080/14434318.2002.11432712.

11 MacKenzie Art Gallery, “The Art of Faye HeavyShield - Curator Walkthrough Video,” YouTube, January 25, 2023, video, https://youtu.be/w7TgP6F4yNU?si=18aCGNdeCEERKRlQ.

Bibliography


Best, Susan. “What Is Affect? Considering the Affective Dimension of Contemporary

Installation Art.” Australian and New Zealand Journal of Art 2/3, no. 2/1 (2002): 207–25.

“Body of Land.” National Gallery of Canada. Accessed December 13, 2023.

“Faye HeavyShield: Aapaskaiyaawa (They Are Dancing).” Mackenzie Art Gallery. Accessed

Gourievidis, Laurence. “Representing Migration in Museums: History, Diversity and the Politics of Memory.” In Museums and Migration, 1-24. United Kingdom: Routledge, 2014.

MacKenzie Art Gallery. “Conversation with Faye HeavyShield, Kristy Trinier, and Felicia Gay.”

MacKenzie Art Gallery. “The Art of Faye HeavyShield - Curator Walkthrough Video.” YouTube.

Witcomb, Andrea. “Using Souvenirs to Rethink How We Tell Histories of Migration: Some

Thoughts.” In Narrating Objects, Collecting Stories: Essays in Honour of Professor

Susan M. Pearce, 36–51, 2012. https://doi.org/10.4324/9780203120125.



Noted at the request of the course instructor: This paper was written as an assignment for the course MSL215 Global Cultures and Museums (Fall 2023), instructed by Bruno Veras de Morais e Silva.

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