MSVU Art Gallery – Learning Space

Mount Saint Vincent University (MSVU) Art Gallery

Learning Space

Mount Saint Vincent University Art Gallery in Nova Scotia (in partnership with Eyelevel Gallery) presented a travelling exhibition organized and circulated by Truck Contemporary Art, Calgary, entitled “Taskoch pipon kona kah nipa muskoseya, nepin pesim eti pimachihew/Like the Winter Snow Kills the Grass, the Summer Sun Revives.” This exhibition of artistic works by seven contemporary Indigenous artists from across Canada aimed “to address and initiate a discussion on how Indigenous languages intertwine with Indigenous epistemologies and how the dormancy and extinction of Indigenous languages leads to a hindrance of culture and knowledge” ( Please visit the MSVU art gallery website to learn more.

Earth and Water, Michelle Sylliboy

This artwork celebrates Indigenous languages and the power of poetry. “Old Water,” a stunning collection of carved wooden planks, invites gallery-goers to immerse themselves in the beauty of Indigenous words and the profound message they convey.

The artwork features a poignant poem entitled “Old Water,” carved into walnut, birch, and maple wood planks. The words read: “old water / you wiped clean / my flesh / I honour you / In the future / who will ease your heart / in the garden.” This evocative poem pays homage to the essential element of water while echoing the deep connection between nature and humanity.

Through intricate woodcarving techniques, the artist skillfully transforms each plank into a visual representation of Indigenous languages’ resilience and significance. The organic textures of walnut, birch, and maple wood serve as a canvas for the written word, creating a harmonious fusion of art, literature, and nature.

In exploring the concepts of the multilingual subject and the authentic speaker, Blyth (2018) writes, “The linguistic performance of one’s identity can be framed either in terms of conforming to external sociolinguistic norms or as an internal process of self-authentication” (p. 63). This artwork, using natural material to display the poem and the artist’s connection to nature and land, provides a deep contemplation on the value of preserving and revitalizing Indigenous languages, and, thus, Indigenous identities and histories.

Michelle Sylliboy. Earth and Water, 2020 (Installation shot at MSVU Art Gallery, Halifax, NS), Birch, maple, walnut and wood stain. Courtesy of the Artist, Michelle Sylliboy. Photo Credit: Susan M. Holloway.

Rugaru, Audie Murray

“Rugaru: I Recognize the Ways You Shift Inside,” is an art exhibition by Audie Murray. This artwork explores the captivating story of transformation, where a person transforms into a creature resembling a large black dog or wolf; known as the rugaru, with retransformation occurring by calling out the person’s name.

At its core, the story of the rugaru symbolizes profound internal emotions and personal experiences. Murray weaves this narrative as a creative commentary on the enduring impact of colonial structures and systems on Indigenous and First Nations communities. The exhibition is a profound exploration of identity and resilience, capturing the essence of the rugaru legend as a metaphor for the complex interplay between tradition, cultural heritage, and the influences of colonial history. 

When exploring inter-modal construction, Unsworth (2006) writes, “What is being investigated here is the space of integration between language and image as social semiotic systems in order to provide a theoretical description of the dynamics of interaction between language and image in meaning-making” (p. 60). Thus, in the second photograph, a viewer can see a stand, a rug, a wooden chair, and a foldable table with crushed cans on top, dried flowers adorning the wall, a hanging tapestry with the word “rugaru” embroidered onto it, and a piece of plastic tossed on the floor next to the rug. In relation to Unsworth’s explanation of the interconnection between word and image, we see the word “rugaru” and the crushed cans in connection with one another. The negative effects of drinking lead to the rugaru transformation. The first photo below, which is of an art label, explains this connection in greater detail.

This exhibition is a powerful testament to the resilience and a call for understanding the deep-rooted impact of historical trauma and ongoing struggles in Indigenous and First Nations communities.

Audie Murray. I Recognize the Ways You Shift Inside (Rugaru) 2017/2020 (Installation shot at MSVU Art Gallery, Halifax, NS), mixed-media installation. Courtesy of the Artist, Audie Murray. Photo Credit: Susan M. Holloway.

Tattan* for Reclamation 2, Tsema Igharas

This artwork stands as a powerful testament to love for territory and land, intertwining Indigenous language, a heartfelt plea, and the symbolic presence of caribou hide. 

At the heart of “Tattan” lies the word “reclamation,” expressed in the Indigenous language as “esghanana,” which translates to “give it back to me.” This plea is Tsema’s passionate and artistic response to the devastating forest fires that threaten the lands of the Tahltan territory. Unsworth (2006) writes, “Language is considered as a meaning-making system where the options available to individuals to achieve their communicative goals are influenced by the nature of the social context and how individuals are positioned in relation to it” (p. 57). Tsema, in the artwork photographed below, (re)designs animal hide to make connections between marginalized Indigenous languages to make connections and establish ties between language, animals, land, and art to develop further the concept of what was lost throughout colonial history.

The work of art showcases a 12-minute video, thoughtfully curated, that reveals the intricate process of creating the print from the caribou hide. The video offers a glimpse into the artist’s meticulous artistry. The centrepiece of the exhibition features an art piece crafted from caribou hide, symbolizing the deep connection between Indigenous communities and the land. Similarly to Unsworth’s mention of language and a person’s social relation to language, Tsema’s video presents the methods behind (re)designing the caribou hide to serve as a print. As the artwork unfolds, the caribou hide takes on a luminous quality, illuminated by a gentle light that shines behind it, displaying the word “esghanana” reflected on a wall in front of the hide.

Tsēmā Igharas, Tałtan for Reclamation 2, 2019 (Installation shot at MSVU Art Gallery, Halifax, NS), single channel video (12:09), caribou hide, spray paint. Courtesy of the Artist, Tsēmā Igharas. Photo Credit: Susan M. Holloway.

*Please find the correct spelling of the Indigenous word “Tattan” and its meaning in the photograph of the wall label (first photograph under the exhibition subheading) as it is presented at the MSVU Art Gallery accompanying this work of art. The photograph of the wall label is present directly below the subheading introducing the art exhibition.

Susan Blight, Hooked Rug Exhibition

The “Hooked Rug Exhibit” by Susan Blight, shows where the art of rug-making intertwines with the beauty of Indigenous language. Through a series of carefully crafted hooked rugs, Susan presents a visionary perspective, envisioning a future where Indigenous languages thrive and find expression in modern technologies.

In this artwork, Blight uses hooked rugs in varying sizes to recreate iPhone text messages, all written and sent in Anishinaabemowin – the language of the Anishinaabe people. This artwork serves as an ode to Indigenous language, representing the hope for a future where Indigenous languages are used as regularly as English in text messaging and various other methods of communication. In writing about minority languages in a predominantly English-speaking county, Taylor et al. (2008) urge educators to view “identity and literacy as transnational and transcultural trajectories rather than static inventories of traits and capacities: identity and literacy might be redefined as social practices and dynamic relationships that emerge through transnational forms of community, mobility, communication and cultural expression that articulate multiple global contexts” (p. 271). Blight’s artwork and hope for a future of inclusivity in modern modes of communication (i.e. iMessaging) allows us to see the possibility of Indigenous and First Nations languages being included in what is readily available to dominant languages.

Blight shares her vision where Indigenous languages not only survive but flourish in a contemporary landscape, becoming available and seamlessly woven into communication technologies. Blight’s hooked rugs showcase the possibility of that vision.

Susan Blight. On the Occasion of our small gatherings, 2019 (Installation shot at MSVU Art Gallery, Halifax, NS), hooked rug. Courtesy of the Artist, Susan Blight. Photo Credit: Susan M. Holloway.

For more information about the Mount Saint Vincent Art Gallery, please go to their website found at