Woven Together

Guest Curated by Jaimie Isaac

July 14 to October 7, 2018

Curated by Jaimie Isaac, Woven Together is a group exhibition featuring Indigenous artists Ursula Johnson, Meagan Musseau, Meghann O’Brien, and Tania Willard. Each of these artists’ work relates to the woven basket as a contemporary methodology to explore epistemologies, interwoven narratives and histories. These artists consider weaving a reflexive practice as the maker’s hands create interlaced actions through a learned, contemplative, and repetitive process binding together layers of knowledge and material. Representing nations from Coast Salish Territory in British Columbia to Ktaqmkuk Territory in Newfoundland, Woven Together entangles practices from the West and the East to unravel intergenerations and intertribal memories of matriarchal kinships, knowledge, and practices.

Opening Reception
Friday, July 13, 6 to 8 pm
Featuring a performance by The Salish Sisters: Tracey Kim Bonneau and Cease Wyss.
This is a free event, open to members and guests by invitation.

Panel Discussion
Tuesday, July 17, at 6 pm
Join us for a panel discussion with Guest Curator Jaimie Isaac and artists Meagan Musseau, Meghann O’Brien, and Tania Willard.


Curatorial Essay


Collections of baskets evoke collections of memories. My mom collected baskets, two of which I treasured and played with growing up – a cylindrical, birch bark basket, and a small, tightly woven, sweetgrass basket, oval shaped with a matching fitted, woven lid and handle. In the birch bark basket, she kept a red-clothed bundle of medicine. The other, she let me use for childhood collections like rocks, feathers and shells. I appreciate that she let me play with them and handle them with my bare hands. Even though they were precious, my mom wasn’t so precious with them, in that they weren’t inaccessible or out of reach collecting dust on a shelf. It was a tactile experience to feel the braided strands of grass, and the smooth birch bark skin. She told me women made them, and that they were like the womb because they were carriers. I believe this is where my love and respect for baskets and woven materials began.

Woven Together considers weaving and basket making as a contemporary practice to explore epistemologies, interwoven narratives, and traditions, to honour matriarchal knowledge, labour, strength, innovation and power. Woven Together is a concept that was guided from a consideration of each of the artists’ work over a course of time, and connecting their practices together in a related way. All of the artists and art are curated, or rather, woven together by their narratives, experiences, practices and relationships, to shape this exhibition. Together the works are in dialogue with lineage and one another. As curator, I am not in any way an authority on weaving and basketry, but instead a conduit to connect relevant conversations and memories, and identify familial matriarchal bonds that draw parallel practices together with artists from different nations across the continent. Representing nations from British Columbia to Newfoundland, Woven Together entangles practices from the West and the East to unravel kinships, knowledge, cosmologies, and practices.

Knowing that baskets and weaving were primarily women’s domain and material territory, it is also known that this practice has been marginalized within the Western art historical cannon of fine arts and has been pejoratively categorized as an ornamental, decorative craft for utilitarian uses. The article, The Politics of Erasure: Reclaiming Aboriginal Art History describes:

Within the colonial state, compounded by Victorian systems of patriarchy, Aboriginal women’s lives (and their work) were regulated and documented very differently from their male counterparts. Recognition of individual women artists during this time poses an arduous challenge to art historians, as it is difficult to gather and construct even basic biographical information. Western classifications of art, gender bias, and white supremacy, all converge and implicate the ways in which Native women’s art has been perceived, evaluated, defined and documented within the Canadian art history. Although issues of erasure affected all Aboriginal people, it was especially rare for women to be recognized and documented as individual artists.[1]

In consideration of heritage preservation and collections, if museums and galleries are understood from a humanist concept, meaning that humans and nature can be understood by their manifestations and production (Kreps 47), then the power and control of interpretation and language describing these manifestations are integral in the transmission of culture.[2] The work or productions made by women were routinely unattributed, and undermined in the fine art world, recognized only in anthropological and ethnographical fields as salvaged artifacts in museum collections. In classic museum contexts, basket items are rarely given enough consideration or community knowledge consultation, which translates to the public audience in didactic or labels as unknown or at best estimated. Maker, region, material – the only attribution provided is what seems like a hypothesized guess of motif description (i.e. plant, geometric design).

The three baskets in Woven Together are borrowed from the Okanagan Heritage Museum of Interior Salish, and are listed as unattributed and unknown. Very little is known about their provenance – like many objects and artifacts of this nature in museums. Displaying historical works in tandem with contemporary artwork is a recurring theme in many contemporary exhibitions, and serves as a way to acknowledge a lineage of knowledge and practice throughout the generations. Historical objects displayed in this context set a code, a framework for material use, aesthetics and meaning. The placement of the contemporary work transcends these traditions in the same manner of code in accordance to 21st Century layered critique and technique.[3] The historical baskets from the Okanagan territories hold space and preside within the exhibition as artifactual-matriarchal witnesses to conflate history, the present, and future. These ancestor baskets, when presented alongside contemporary creations, represent timeless evidence of cultural identity and are gestures of continuity within contemporary productions. The baskets serve as references to support women’s practice in having an enduring continuance and ongoing relevance of practicing timeless cultural expressions and ways of being. Although thought of as women’s traditional practice; it is significant and necessary to assert and acknowledge that basket-making and weaving is genderless in that it is practiced and sustained by men, queer and non-binary producers, furthering a continuum that upholds and reveres weaving/basket-making’s place in fine arts and contemporary praxis.

The production of baskets and weaving across the continent has been practiced from time immemorial, from many different nations. It’s fascinating that the baskets and weaving materials reflect the connection to the land and knowledge of the land through its collection of materials to weave with and their transformation of processing to a state of weaving into vessels that carry these layers of knowledge and sustenance, such as berries and gifts from the land. They simultaneously share, store and transmit memories and stories. Deborah Doxtator, a curator and writer of Indigenous arts, wrote, in Basket, Bead and Quill:

The often-collaborative process of gathering and preparing materials and repeating (although never exactly) the patterns of making traditional forms, in and of itself teaches and imparts knowledge. As well, these objects continue to form an important part of our sense of ourselves as collective beings, connecting us to other people, past, present, and future, and to other beings in the natural world.[4]

Woven Together considers the weaving process as a reflexive and methodical practice, and baskets as a methodology to access intergenerational skills. The concentrated act of weaving with one’s hands is remedial, cathartic and healing. As the maker’s hands create braided, interlaced actions through a learned, contemplative, and repetitive process, they bind together layers of knowledge and materials from the land, of the land, and about the land. The artists in Woven Together use materials such as strands of ash wood, cedar roots, or spruce root from the land as well as manufactured plastics like survey tape and vinyl—each bound with politically and spiritually constructed meanings. This exhibition gathers the interdisciplinary work of woven materials from artists that are object-based, conceptual, performative, and relational.

Across the gallery from the historical baskets are Meghann O’Brien’s woven objects, which vary in size, material and style. O’Brien “explores the intersection of Indigenous materials and techniques with the world of fashion.”[5] For instance, the Clam Digging Basket, 2007, woven with red cedar bark, is transformed into a wearable purse which has been featured most recently in a Toronto fashion show. The intricately woven Moon Ancestor Pendent, 2016, is a necklace woven with cashmere and yellow cedar bark. And a basket in progress, made with yellow cedar bark for Work Box, 2017, is filled with yellow cedar bark, loose materials and memento items. Meghann forms contemporary connections to the world that her ancestors knew, locating her teachings from the land and natural materials she used to weave. In her words, “the most profound and deeply felt teachings have come from working with natural materials. The origins of my practice are rooted in spending time on the land: vast stretches of forest and sea along the inside passage,” and the “textiles connects to the rhythms and patterns of the natural world and creates a continuity between herself and her ancestors.”[6] Meghann’s work in Woven Together brings the viewer into a more intimate connection to the significance of understanding the materials used in weaving, as well as respect for the process of weaving, seeing the basket in progress and in a way deconstructed with the materials nearby; you’re drawn into the world of the quiet, methodical, meticulousness of weaving. O’Brien bends the very idea of tradition in weaving as she transforms these materials to a contemporary way of seeing these objects, changing their convention into a mode of expression in the fashion world now.

Meagan Mousseu’s baskets are woven together from ‘vinyl-splits’ to mimic ash wood baskets made from Mi’gkmaw women for centuries. The vinyl splits are made from synthetic vinyl and the braided features are braided with neon flagging tape. Musseau’s baskets are shown on three plinths, painted in a colour appropriately called “Crushed Berries.” There’s Intergalactic L’nu, 2018, nukumi, will you sit with me as I learn to weave?, 2018, and Likpeniken, 2017, and an additional plinth holding, wela’lin (thank you), a split ash coil used for basketry gifted to Meagan by Ursula Johnson. Hung between the plinths is a split vinyl installation titled, when they clear the trees will we still weave baskets. Meagan calls upon the matriarchal genetic memories, ancestral guidance and mentorship of her ancestors within her work. The baskets are made with synthetic vinyl, which provides shiny, bright, neon colours, suggesting a newness. However, there are ties to an older Indigenous art history found with the colours of quillwork and beading housed in museums. Instead of using natural materials like grasses, tree roots and wood, Musseau boldly adapts to her moment of learning and limited knowledge of harvesting natural materials to create ancestral practices of basket making with neon vinyl. The braided flagging tape shows the interwoven politics of the land. Land surveying tape in place of grasses tells of the colonialist history prevalent in land resource extraction, land ownership, prevention of Indigenous harvesting and land rights (the list goes on). Musseau’s material usage with the installation, when they clear the trees will we still weave baskets, points to the loss of intergenerational knowledge of harvesting natural materials. On the other hand, she transcends this loss by finding materials that are available, while also underlining the knowledge that ash wood is becoming more and more unavailable due to forestry and environmental sickness.

Directly across from Meagan’s work is Ursula Johnson’s Basket Weaving (Cultural Cocoon), which provides a photographic documentation sequence hung on the gallery wall as an outlined shape of a giant basket. It frames a large, human-sized broken basket, woven from ash wood – the same ash wood material Johnson gifted Meagan Musseau. Johnson’s work challenges the viewer “to investigate their own Identity, as well as examining the relationship that their ancestry and cultural practices relates to that of hers.”[7] Johnson’s practice with weaving has deep intergenerational roots. Her great-grandmother, Caroline Gould, was a master basket weaver. Johnson curated Kloqowej: A 30 Year Retrospective of Caroline Gould, Mary E. Black Gallery, Halifax, in 2011. Johnson often draws upon this matriarchal knowledge, and weaves conversations with her great-grandmother into her artistic practice and statements, significantly acknowledging and citing a lineage of knowledge.

Johnson recalls a conversation with her great-grandmother in which she asked whether the art form would survive. Gould replied, “If these kids enter into the forest they cannot tell you the difference between a red maple, a sugar maple or a striped maple, let alone tell you what time of year the tree is to be harvested or how to properly process it. The weaving is only one step, this understanding of the resources is what is needed for the art to survive.”[8]

Johnson revisits the traditional materials her family has been using for many generations. For Basket Weaving (Cultural Cocoon), she weaves ash wood splints around herself for a durational performance. After she is fully enveloped, she breaks free, bursting out from the basket. This final action in the performance evokes a transformation, like a caterpillar into a butterfly, breaking free of the cocoon; a birth or change of states. From a queer perspective, this action also functions as a coming out metaphor and simultaneous breaking free of gender expectations. The photographic documentation in Woven Together is the fourth iteration of her six-hour performance of Basket Weaving (Cultural Cocoon), an exhibition called Custom Made, curated by Tania Willard at the Kamloops Art Gallery.

Tania Willard’s work, Gut Instincts, 2018 was created as a site-specific work, made for the exhibition and space in the courtyard of the Kelowna Art Gallery. Gut Instincts is complex and layered in its design and concept. Willard imagined the space in the courtyard to be architecturally reminiscent of a basket, with four sides and an open top. Willard transformed this space to evoke a basket that embraces its audience, inviting visitors to into a dialogue and reverence of the baskets she is referencing. With Gut Instincts, Willard takes up and holds space for the unattributed baskets and their unknown makers, housed in many ethnographic and anthropological museum collections. Tania has created digitally altered images of baskets in an electrifying, neon, psychedelic vinyl fixed on the wall. Willard says of Gut Instincts, “work takes its origin in a design from a cedar root basket collected as part of the North Pacific Jesup Expedition (1897-1902) from Stl’atl’imx territories… ‘entrails pattern,’ the design was acknowledged in the work of anthropologists James Teit and in Livingston Farrand’s published work from the Jesup Expedition that examined the lineage of abstraction from natural observation to cultural motif.”[9]

In a circle composition, tree stumps act as foundations to weigh down multiple neon-coloured red and yellow flags, spelling a laser-printed ‘Gut Instincts.’ The small flags are suggestive of utility marking flags that companies use to signify areas on the ground where gas, phone and electricity lines have been buried. Red and yellow colours usually indicate electric power lines and natural gas or flammable materials. Willard uses this mode as the identifiers of Gut Instincts, as both buried knowledge of the unattributed baskets as well as markers of taking space to acknowledge the land and its power. Through these gestures, Willard demarcates space for the historical and ongoing presence of matriarchal love. “Gut Instincts is an affirmation of women’s intuition, gut instinct and ancestral voices that collapse the past, future, and present into an embodied and visceral experience of the present… As an expression of Indigenous women’s art forms, this disappearance of named makers and ancestor artists represents the colonial disappearances and dispossession of Indigenous women, communities, and lands.”[10] Through Willard’s vision, the courtyard has become architecturally atmospheric for the sensibilities. The spruce tree stumps emit a medicinal smell from the pitch and sap, and the feeling of being held in a basket is both peaceful and powerful.

On the opening night of Woven Together, T’uy’t’tanat -Cease Wyss and Tracey Kim Bonneau of The Salish Sisters Collective shared a performance called “Twinning.” Together, they captured the atmosphere of the evening with their storytelling, combining their “cultural stories of weaving and cultural ‘herstories’ of medicines and songs from the Lands and Waters they are born of.”[11] Twining is a method that combines various materials together to “create patterns and strengthen the weaving,” and together the Salish Sisters Collective demonstrated this through their woven storied performance, each taking turns to speak and sing while they worked with their hands to weave natural materials. On the tables in front of them were various woven objects on display, enkindling the histories of the basket trade among many nations. Seeing the materials and hearing their stories enacted demonstrated the strength and resilience of women, even facing oppressive colonist control, as they fed and clothed their families with the basket-making trade. “Despite the devastating impact of smallpox and a rapid period of cultural and economic changes between 1870 and 1910, many First Nations women developed new modes of artistic creation for economic survival while remaining responsible for the maintenance and continuation of cultural knowledge and tradition.”[12]

Woven Together is about honouring the roles women played in art history and the contemporary continuum that all genders are contributing to now. It recognizes that baskets and weaving is a form of fine art, and that matriarchal practice has power and lineage. Women’s roles need to be held up by community in shaping the next generations, and in art history. A re-read, attributions, consultations and identifications on many levels in museum collections are necessary to revitalize and dismantle the art historical cannon. My hope is that people will unpack the complexities of the exhibition and the artists’ combined knowledge, experiences and expressions, see baskets differently in museums, and will be compelled to explore their own matriarchal ties and ancestry and draw connections cross-culturally.

by Jaimie Isaac



There are many individuals to thank for assisting in the development of the exhibition. First and foremost, the artists are to be thanked for their willingness to work with me on Woven Together, and their contributions of work and time – especially Tania Willard for creating new site-specific work. I also need to thank the Kelowna Art Gallery, Nataley Nagy, Julie Martin, Laura Jane Ritchie, and all the staff for seeing this exhibition to completion and activating the themes with the relevant programming we discussed. Stephen Foster supported the exhibition by creating connections to the summer intensive at UBCO. I also want to give a huge miigwetch to my mother, who has always been supportive in my practice as a curator, artist and mother, as well as to all the inspiring women in my life!

[1] Bonnemaison, Emma. The Politics of Erasure: Reclaiming Aboriginal Women’s Art History. www.sfu.ca/brc/online_exhibts/spruce-root-weaving/the-politics-of-erasure.html July 10, 2018

[2] Isaac, Jaimie. https://open.library.ubc.ca/cIRcle/collections/ubctheses/24/items/1.0303135, pg.12.

[3] Isaac, Jaimie, “shards,” Bordercrossings, Issue 145, March 2018

[4] Doxtator, Deborah, Basket, Bead, and Quill, and the Making of “Traditional” Art, Basket, Bead and Quill, Thunder Bay Gallery, pg 14.

[5] Meghann O’Brien artist biography

[6] Meghann O’Brien artist statement

[7] Ursula Johnson website; artist statement

[8] Ursula Johnson website http://ursulajohnson.ca/portfolio/2014-ongoing-mikwitetmn-do-you-remember/ July 2018

[9] Tania Willard artist statement

[10] ibid

[11] The Salish Sisters Collective artist statement

[12] Bonnemaison, Emma. The Politics of Erasure: Reclaiming Aboriginal Women’s Art History. https://www.sfu.ca/brc/online_exhibits/spruce-root-weaving/the-politics-of-erasure.html


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