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L.A. Beat

New SAAG exhibits celebrate First Nations culture and the environment

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The Southern Alberta Art Gallery has some  interesting new exhibits  focussing on First Nations and the environment, opening on Saturday, Oct. 14.

 Gabi Dao, the SAAG artist in residence last year uses the image of bats to explore several  different issues including environmentalism, green energy, misinformation and the perceived role of bats on the Covid plague  in her new exhibit  “ What Breaks on the Horizon.”


Gabi Dao shows off her Lucifer Bat Marionette at the SAAG. Photo by Richard Amery

She began working on the exhibition, which includes three short films and  a set of stylized bat marionettes with SAAG curator Adam Whitford right before Covid happened in March 2020.


“There was this viral video, pardon the pun, that was circulating on far right websites of a woman eating bat soup, but  the video was released in 2016 and it wasn’t even in Wuhan. It was on an island ( in Palau, Micronesia), so it got me thinking about misinformation and what people perceive to be coded as evil, viral, devilish and deviant,” Dao explained, adding she also decided to research bats by talking to experts in Cypress Hills and Southern Alberta including out by Frank’s Slide.


 Her three movies include footage of bats, more experimental work using a fish-eye lens “bat cam” , conversations with experts about bats and at mining company Teck Resources Limited  about the environmental impact of actually building the wind turbines and a 15 minute film “ Lucifer Falls to Earth”  —  a fictional story about Satan as a bat, falling to Earth after hitting a wind turbine

“ Bats are very good for the earth because they eat insects that pesticides are used to eliminate. And a lot of bats die after flying into windmills,” she said.


The Upper Gallery features a new exhibition from artist and electronica musician Elisa Harkins celebrating and preserving First Nations music from Oklahoma,  B.C and Lethbridge.


 Five different songs from Osage, Cree, Seminole, Cherokee, Kiowa and Blackfoot traditions are featured including the sheet music, photos and a shawl inspired by the music.

“ There‘s sheet music, photos of the musicians and a video of them singing their songs. I’ve also created shawls inspired by each person,” said Harkins who is also a DJ on an all indigenous radio station.

 She observed First Nations  music is traditionally passed down by word of mouth so her exhibit is a way to preserve the music.

 One of the songs is from a musician who was part of protests with in the American Indian Movement in the ’60s and ’70s.

“He protested at Wounded Knee and Alcatraz. So the shawl is  an upside down American flag  that would have been worn as a patch,” Harkins explained.


Another piece  explore  First Nations traditions like the Sundance. Another piece shows an up and coming  teen hand drum group the White Buffalo Singers.

Naatoíyiki (Cheyenne McGinnis) shows off one of their toques in the SAAG store. Photo by Richard Amery

“ She’s a Jingle Dancer, and a Fancy Dancer so that is reflected in the shawl. There’s 3,000 sequins on it,” Harkins said.


“ I want people to see that Native culture is   alive and thriving. There are sin songs that are passed on  through generations. There are multiple genres and accessible to all people,” Harkins said.

 The Library Gallery features Megan Feniak”s “ In Honoured Dust”/ It assembles  sculptures of  caterpillars, Glacier Lilies, trapdoor spiders and  Cyclosmia which “  consider a shared connection between consciousness and the Earth.”

“The negative subconscious stimulation from insects and other ground-dwellers is thought to come from their association with filth, decomposition, and mortality,” according to a press release from The Southern Alberta Art Gallery.

The SAAG shop features the work of Naatoíyiki aka Cheyenne McGinnis a non-binary artist who runs Indig Busy-ness. McGinnis features an array of hats, toques and shirts reflecting  the issue of Treaty rights.


“ They’re approach is all natural and Earth friendly,” said U of C business school graduate McGinnis, adding the items range in price from  five dollars to five hundred.

 McGinnis is also a musicians whose CDs are also for sale there.

The Exhibits open with an opening reception, Saturday, Oct. 14 from 7-9 p.m.

Gabi Dao will be speaking about her work Oct. 14 from 2-3 p.m.

—By Richard Amery, L.A. Beat Editor

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