Touring an art exhibition can take years of planning, and it’s even harder during a pandemic. Just ask Lori Lai, touring co-ordinator for Weaving Cultural Identities, currently on display at Urban Shaman.
“We’ve never done anything like this before,” says Lai of the Canada-wide tour presented by the Vancouver Biennale. “It’s a learning experience. It’s been great.”
“We were supposed to launch in March but then we had to push one venue all the way to 2021 and re-adjust some dates for the other ones,” she says. “We had to switch around a couple venue times, but luckily we’ve been able to keep all of our pre-COVID plan venues. We’re very lucky that the venues were able to move things around.”
Lai hopes that — if COVID-19 allows — Weaving Cultural Identities will have a tour stop in every province, but in the meantime, the 10 hand-woven rugs that make up the exhibition are currently on display in Winnipeg.
The rugs are inspired by the style and form of Islamic prayer rugs, so it might be a surprise to see them housed at Urban Shaman, a contemporary Aboriginal art gallery. But the rugs are actually a cultural and artistic collaboration between Islamic and Indigenous Coast Salish artists.
“It’s Indigenous histories connecting with new immigrant Islamic histories,” Lai explains.
Curated by Zarina Laalo, the exhibition features artists Angela George, Chief Janice George, Buddy Joseph, Dawn Livera, Adrienne Neufeld, Krista Point, Nadia Sajjid, Ruth Sheuing, Shamina Senaratne, Michelle Sirois Silver, Debra Sparrow, Robyn Sparrow, Mary Lou Trinkwon, Doaa Jamal, Damian John, Sholeh Mahlouji, Michelle Nahanee and Kit Walton.
The design of each of the 10 rugs was first created by a graphic designer before being woven by a weaver, with each coming from a different cultural background. Through the collaboration, the artists learned about the similarities and differences in the spirituality of each of their cultures, infusing their discoveries into each rug.
“There’s a spirituality that is prevalent in both of these cultures that are seemingly different but have a reverence that goes into something that is hand-woven,” says Lai, who notes that these types of rugs are often given as gifts and symbolize respect.
The rugs use different kinds of textiles, including Canadian sheep wool, European threads and Indian cotton.
“The materiality of a lot of these works are so important because of the places where they come from. It speaks to the whole story of the show as well: where do we come from? How are we weaving these two histories together?”
The initial success of Weaving Cultural Identities has inspired an extension of the project called Threads Through Time, which is currently on display at the Contemporary Native Art Biennale at Montreal.