A photo of artist Marcy Friesen on the nature and land around Wanuskewin.

Connecting to the land inspires Indigenous artist’s practice

By: Jackie Ledingham December, 2023

Thanks to her connection to land-based experiences, Marcy Friesen, Wanuskewin’s first artist-in-residence, has changed the way she approaches her art practice.

Her experience as Artist-in-Residence, which ran from July to August, allowed Friesen to learn more about her Swampy Cree heritage and increased her connection to her culture.

“Learning about silver berries on wolf willow bushes, I was able to harvest them and will use these beads in my future work,” she says. “I learnt that it’s a good thing to say ‘yes’ when given opportunities that will take you away from your everyday life, because good things can happen. I learnt that when an artist is supported in every single way, amazing works can be made during the residency and beyond.”

According to Olivia Kristoff, the curator at Wanuskewin, the Olivia and Greg Yuel Artist-In-Residence program is an opportunity for emerging and established Indigenous artists from across Canada and the “medicine line” to spend a month at Wanuskewin, immersing themselves in all the unique aspects of the park and creating new works.

The land Wanuskewin is on, is also a part of the residency experience, as well as, access to Elders. Kristoff says, “The land has so much knowledge to share and the more that it informs the work they create at Wanuskewin, the more connected to this place the artist feels. People feel something special when they are here and that has resulted in some incredible art.”

Friesen says she felt supported by this experience and it brought growth to her practice. “To have a peaceful feeling the whole time I was in residency made me feel energized and creative.”

Moving forward the experience will continue to influence her art practice through the teachings she received. “I will go easier on myself and remember to enjoy the whole process of creating,” says Friesen. “I will also think about those who came before me who paved the way for me to be here.”

Kristoff adds that, “Wanuskewin offers so many one-of-a-kind experiences. We have a conservation bison herd, 6,000 years of history with seven different Indigenous groups, petroglyphs, and daily programming that teaches visitors about the vibrant and evolving culture of the Indigenous peoples in the Prairies.”

Many artists have found that creating in this environment is a meaningful experience. “There are very few galleries who exclusively exhibit work by Indigenous artists. The purpose is to create a valuable resource for all the artists we work with, regardless of the place they are at in their career, and that is why mentorship is at the centre of this program,” she says.

Wanuskewin receives Annual Global Funding from Sask Lotteries, in partnership with SaskCulture.