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Bold, honest exhibit challenges preconceptions

Tashina Makokis, a nehiyaw iskwew artist from the Saddle Lake Cree Nation, is bringing a decidedly more challenging display of paintings from two series.

Be prepared for an exhibit of artwork like no other that has been on display before at the St. Albert Public Library. Viewers will certainly be familiar with the striking wildlife and landscape shots offered by various members of the St. Albert Photography Club in previous months.

Tashina Makokis, a nehiyaw iskwew artist from the Saddle Lake Cree Nation, is bringing a decidedly more challenging display of paintings from two series.

“Some of my pieces are not necessarily family-friendly,” she said.

Perhaps.

The sight of painted nudes in some works juxtaposed with other works showing the dramatically distorted images of some of Canada’s historical figures might catch some eyes with a mixture of offence or disturbance. They'll all be hung in the Adult Services section, naturally. To any viewer who experiences distress at the sights, the artist wishes to explain herself.

First, the nudes are part of her Sacred Landscape series exploring the textures of wonderfully curvy women, the sort who Ruben certainly would have depicted with much appreciation, though likely with a much different sense of composition.

“My original intent for them was just a celebration of the body that takes up space in a way that’s not very ... 'pretty' or 'thin,' et cetera,” she said.

They do offer a gaze that gets explicit for some prurient tastes, but an arts advocate would say the human body is glorious in all its shapes and colours, and all its angles. To deny the fleshy model and her anatomy in fine art is to deny an untold percentage of the world’s population whose physiologies do not match that of a typically underfed fashion runway catwalker; hence, her calling the series Sacred.

There is nothing grotesque whatsoever shown in these paintings. The bodies are beautiful, and honest, and bold. Makokis’s work is indeed a wildly refreshing departure from past shows at the library.

“I think it’s pretty cool. I was really surprised when they reached out and asked if I would be interested in setting up at the library. I was like, ‘Oh? Are you sure?’” she said.

They were like, ‘Yeah, absolutely. We can make this work.’ I’m really excited about it. I hope people aren’t terribly offended by the body works.”

Her second series flips 180 degrees by taking our country’s erstwhile glorified heroes and bringing out their ugly sides. For this bunch, she has much to say.

“I called them The Cancer Series because what I did was, I painted a bunch of portraits of historical Canadian figures that we're taught were supposedly great leaders, but in actuality, they were also just terrible people. They perpetuated racism and eugenics, and so it's just calling them out on that,” she said.

She added “grotesque growths” on their faces to embody their actions in perpetuating racism and the many atrocities against Indigenous peoples and people of colour, she said.

Makokis spoke of her painting of Duncan Campbell Scott, the father of the Indian residential school system. It was a straight portrait at one point, but it simply wasn't doing the man justice.

“It was a piece that I hadn’t really felt was completed, and I just didn’t know what to do with it until I just had this bit of inspiration where I purchased a small bottle of red liquid paint that was extra runny. It looked like blood and I just splashed it about on the canvas to really drive home the point, how much death, how much loss the Indian … caused that was created by this man,” she continued, hoping to turn our collective gaze to the continuing loss of life.

“I hope it also reminds people if you’re not Indigenous, it’s not something you live with every day. I think people can forget. I don’t really blame them for that because we all have our own lives to live, but I also think people need to be reminded from time to time.”

The artist does live with the inter-generational effects of the residential school system and the Sixties Scoop, of living with parents dealing with their traumas, or “not dealing with their traumas,” in her words.

Having to live with a recent brain injury — a car accident followed soon thereafter by a devastating fall on the ice four years ago — on top of recovering from a traumatic childhood has also been …” she laughed, working to find a phrase that hits the right note, “it’s putting me through the ringer, I can tell you that.”

She’ll be in attendance on opening night during the June 2 ArtWalk starting at 6 p.m. Eager to connect with the local crowds, she will also have some of her wearable art for sale. The multi-talented artist was recently accepted to the widely popular and influential Santa Fe Indian Market for its 100th anniversary celebration in August. She applied on a whim, she said, thinking the worst they could say would be no. 

Instead, they said yes. There, she'll exhibit and sell her paintings and textile art. That means a busy few months ahead.

"It’s pretty exciting. I’ll be working towards creating work for that market as well as trying to get together all the funding needed for that trip."

Back in Alberta, her upcoming ArtWalk appearance means a big chance to help build both her name and her savings for that plane ticket. 

"Part of my healing process throughout the last couple of years has been just working with what I could. I started creating pieces of jewelry and whatnot. I could bead before, so I picked that up again. I’ll be bringing along jewelry and whatnot to sell as well."

Not one to shy from jewelry that combines the unique with the earthy erotic, she has a line of earrings and pendants in the shape of vulvas made from home-tanned moose hide, beaver fur, glass Czech beads, Swarovski crystals, and crystal stones.

The artist can be found on her website at tashinamakokis.com or through her social media channels: @tashinamakokis on Twitter, Instagram, and TikTok, and on Facebook as Tashina Makokis - Artist.


Scott Hayes

About the Author: Scott Hayes

Scott Hayes joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2008. Scott writes about the arts, entertainment, movies, culture, community groups, and charities. He also writes general news, features, columns, and profiles on people.
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