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Art installation interprets Anishinaabe knowledge keepers’ insights on dementia

MANITOWANING—The Memory Keepers Medical Discovery Team and the ICARE Community Advisory Council on Dementia Research hosted an art exhibition featuring paintings by Leland Bell that interpret the insights of traditional knowledge keepers on the subject of dementia in an innovative approach that more closely reflects those thoughts through an Indigenous lens.

The opening of the exhibition, accompanied by a feast featuring an Indigenous menu by Doug Trudeau of 4 Winds Catering, and remarks by the artist, Leland Bell, took place on Wednesday, June 26 at the Debajehmujig Storytellers’ Larry E. Lewis Gallery in Manitowaning.

“This exhibit depicts insights from six traditional knowledge keepers,” said Dr. Kristin Jacklin during her opening remarks. She explained how she and Dr. Melissa Blind were part of a research team engaged in a project funded through the Canadian Institute of Health and titled ‘Access to Culturally Safe and Relevant Dementia Care for Diverse Indigenous People in Canada.’ Guided and advised by a local community advisory council, the research team interviewed Anishinaabe Traditional Knowledge Keepers from 㽶Ƶ Island to learn more about their perspectives on aging.

The advisory group decided that representing traditional knowledge keepers’ experiences in paintings would be the best way to preserve and share that knowledge, explained Dr. Jacklin. “The knowledge keepers shared insights on what healthy aging means in Anishinaabe Culture, the values, ways of knowing and living and activities practiced by Anishinaabe people to keep their minds healthy through aging.”

Dr. Jackin explained that the exhibition was the first official presentation of the entire collection, although the illustrations themselves were presented to the community advisory committee in 2018. She described how the team had put together a proposal for the project with some trepidation but were startled at how quickly the project (and funding) flowed.

Mr. Bell (Bebaminojmat) hails from Wiikwemkoong Unceded Territory and is of the Loon Clan and a second-degree member of the Three Fires Midewiwin Society. He is a prominent artist whose works are featured in many well-known art collections across the globe. Most noted for his acrylic works in the Eastern Woodland style, Mr. Bell is also a sculptor, songwriter and performer, as well as a sought-after speaker and workshop facilitator.

The artist told the audience at the exhibition reception that he was influenced in his youth by the Manitou Arts Camp and the Ojibwe Cultural Foundation arts camps and it was in those venues that he developed what would become his signature style.

Chef Doug Trudeau discusses the feast that accompanied the ICARE reception that included a number of Indigenous cuisine items.

“The most memorable experiences were the creative interactions with my fellow artists and the results that emerged,” he said of his formative years as an artist. “Those art camps created a spirit of purpose and passion.”

In preparing for the creation of his artworks, Mr. Bell listened to the recordings of the knowledge keepers interviewed in the program—all of whom he knew previously—but there were challenges in interpretation and translation.

“Many of the interview tapes were in Anishinaabemowin,” he said. Although Mr. Bell is a relatively fluent speaker of the language, he admitted to having to listen to the recordings several times to ensure he had correctly inculcated the concepts being expressed by the elders.

The works were entitled ‘Perseverance,’ ‘Anishinaabe Cognition,’ ‘Presence,’ ‘Healing Step,’ ‘Benevolence,’ ‘Linkages’ and finally, in a group painting encompassing the program, ‘Bebaminojmat: One who goes around and shares teaching their gifts.’

Mr. Bell explained how he took the insights of the knowledge keepers into his own consciousness and brought them forth onto the canvas utilizing the colours and symbolism that he has used in his work over the more than 45 years he has been creating art.

Dr. Jacklin explained that the images on display during the exhibition were prints of the originals. The originals are being gifted back to the knowledge keepers whose thoughts and insights inspired the work.

Article written by

Michael Erskine
Michael Erskine
Michael Erskine BA (Hons) is a staff writer at The 㽶Ƶ Expositor. He received his honours BA from Laurentian University in 1987. His former lives include underground miner, oil rig roughneck, early childhood educator, elementary school teacher, college professor and community legal worker. Michael has written several college course manuals and has won numerous Ontario Community Newspaper Awards in the rural, business and finance and editorial categories.