Cemeteries, snares and other symbols of intergenerational trauma can be seen in Memory Bones, a printmaking exhibit at the Red Deer Museum and Art Gallery.
Métis artist Jewel Shaw said she grew up in northern Alberta with the knowledge that bad things had happened to some of her family members, but nobody was willing to openly talk about these experiences.
As a child, Shaw witnessed addictions in her community. She would sometimes hear disturbing fragments of family history. But whenever she tried to piece these things together, the full story was always elusive.
“There was a lot of unresolved trauma and grief,” concluded the Red Deer based-artist from High Prairie.
Although Shaw’s salvation was the love she received from her grandmother and mother (who’d spent a brief period at an Indian residential school in her own childhood), “I saw a lot of hard things — suicide, abuse, alcoholism… Only through schooling and education — and my art — was I able to sort it all out.”
Shaw studied art at Red Deer College, and further honed her skills at the University of Alberta, where she earned a Masters degree. Art “just called me,” she explained, and the creative process has allowed her to explore issues around memory and identity.
As the married mom of a three-year-old boy, Shaw continues to work through a difficult family legacy in her etchings and prints.
Like the snippets of conversation she overheard as a child, her sparse artworks contain much negative space, punctuated with scattered symbols and quotations. Animal images of ravens, horses, wolverines and rodents are interspersed between Christian crosses, corrals and traps.
Shaw said she was inspired, in part, by found objects, including a rusted flaying saw used by trappers, an old beautifully illustrated book of natural history, and the cover of a Bible.
The artist who studied briefly in Australia and New Mexico, and has exhibited in Edmonton and Japan, hopes that her Memory Bones exhibit raises the kind of questions and discussions that don’t seem possible within her family.
The exhibit continues to Aug. 20.