Gallery on Queen celebrated the life and work of Indigenous artist Ned Bear of St. Mary’s First Nation last Saturday as part of Wabanaki, the gallery’s current exhibition of work by Indigenous artists.
Gallery on Queen celebrated the life and work of Indigenous artist Ned Bear of St. Mary’s First Nation last Saturday as part of Wabanaki, the gallery’s current exhibition of work by Indigenous artists. The afternoon reception welcomed a near capacity crowd of family, friends and admirers of Bear, whose work hung surrounded by roses on the gallery’s eastern wall.
Bear died on December 24, 2019 at the age of 65. He was the first Indigenous student to graduate from the New Brunswick College of Craft and Design and went on to be recognized internationally for his carvings and masks.
“Ned Bear was a major part of the foundation of contemporary Indigenous art in eastern Canada and a magnificent individual,” said John LeRoux, manager of collections and exhibitions at the Beaverbrook Art Gallery. “He was one of the greatest artists and cultural figures New Brunswick has ever had, so we can’t simply put him in this place. He’s bigger than that. ”
Several guests shared stories of their own experiences with Bear and his work, each framed around themes of generosity and admiration. Sisters of the Drum opened the event with a short performance followed by Chief Alan Polchies of St. Mary’s First Nation who welcomed the audience with a land acknowledgement and a few words on the artist.
Among the many high praises and accolades shared, words that can over time, shape a new narrative of any artist’s life and work, it was Bear’s brother Martin whose words were perhaps the most significant of the event.
“Ned was named after my father,” he said. “My father was from the Cree Nation and his ancestors were from Selkrik, Manitoba, on the Red River. In 1869 his ancestors were part of the [Red River] Rebellion. They called it a rebellion but it wasn’t a rebellion, it was a resistance. They fought for our lands and our culture and our way of life. Ned studied the history of the Cree, he even knew the language of the Cree. You see these masks today and you see these expressions. I don’t see a lot of smiles there. I see a lot of anguish and a lot of pain.”
Bear is credited for paving the way for many of the region’s Indigenous artists and for bringing attention to the work of Indigenous artists from across Canada. Gallery on Queen’s current exhibition, Wabanaki, showcases the work of Katie Augustine, Kennlin Barlow, Gina Brooks, Braelynne Cyr, Frannie Francis, Tara Francis, Charlie Gaffney, Emma Hassencahl-Perley, Tim Hogan, Shane Perley-Dutcher, Chantal Polchies, Justin Sappier, Susan Sacobie, Alan Syliboy, and Pauline Young-Matchett.
The exhibition was originally planned to coincide with National Indigenous Peoples Day (June 21), but was moved ahead to honour Bear’s lasting legacy and to be part of this celebration of his life.
“It’s very important for me, when we celebrate Ned, to have his work surrounded by the work of other Indigenous artists,” said Nadia Khoury, owner of Gallery of Queen. “I think he would be very proud of this display.”
Wabanaki will be on display at Gallery on Queen until March 31, 2020.
“We delve into so many past wrongs of our lives that we forget to revel in the present. Learn to capture what you may never have again, now! Do what makes you content for this time, and begin to realize the true purpose of life.”