January 6 – February 18, 2017
Kokum is about Brittney Bear Hat’s on-going exploration of relationships and the value they hold through storytelling, memory and traditions. With this body of work, Bear Hat collects items passed on to her by her own Kokum (Grandmother in Cree).
Bear Hat wanted to expand on her own experiences and let these passed down items become images with family memories attached with them. This specific relationship is unique to Bear Hat, as she wasn’t able to connect with her Kokum until later in her adult life. Getting to know a part of herself that is so separate from her Blackfoot upbringing brought this work to life.
Bear Hat’s Kokum made her look deeper into the simplicity of receiving a gift and the significance that it can hold. Transforming these gifts into more, letting them become images on there own. Bear Hat wants to show the value of these gifts that are just ordinary household items and how they become so much more over time. They live in her home and are a part of Bear Hat’s daily life. Her Kokum was very hands on and showing her grandkids how to be in the outdoors. This is where Bear Hat’s stories start from, drawing from her own memories. Bear Hat’s writes out these stories in black ink on the walls along with family passed down photos, and these objects. Storytelling for Bear Hat is continuallylooking for the right time to tell the right story. It is an on-going practice for Bear Hat and Kokum pushes her in the right direction, giving her the right timing for these stories.
Bear Hat is a graduate from the Alberta College of Art and Design. Based in Calgary, her work focuses on identity and belonging. Half Blackfoot and half Cree, Bear Hat makes work about memory and how her personal history impacts her Native heritage. Using her family archives and personal items combined with text, Bear Hat retells stories and memories to reveal new value and meaning.
Kokum Interpretive Essay
by Shannon Lester
As you enter Brittney Bear Hat’s exhibition you will see three major elements in her work: blown-up family photos, familiar physical objects, and handwriting on the wall. All of the objects displayed in the gallery were given to Bear Hat by her kokum. The photographs were also provided by family; the handwriting on the wall is her own.
This exhibition is a tribute to Bear Hat’s grandmother who is no longer with us. It is a testament to the inspiration that family brings, and the Elder’s role in teaching the importance of tradition to younger generations. The writing on the wall creates continuity between the mounted physical objects and the photographs, playfully hung with camouflage tape. This method of display gives us an interactive experience, like visiting a living museum. Unlike a museum, however, the experiences presented here are not from the distant past; they exist in the now and are very tangible.
Most of the objects displayed are related to hunting or being on the land. A self-professed city girl, Bear Hat said that her grandmother was key in encouraging her to make long-lasting connections with nature. She recounted a story of learning how to skin a moose at the age of 7, and how she is now learning how to hunt and tan hides.
Speaking to the artist about the personal nature of this exhibition, Bear Hat revealed she has reached a point where she feels more comfortable going inward and sharing her own personal narrative. This is in stark contrast to her previous work in which she explored stereotypes and topics that she felt were more surface-oriented.
This exhibition is not only about Indigenous culture – hunting and camping are experiences that most Canadians can relate to. Indeed, the desire to honour past loved ones, especially in acknowledging the importance and power of the matriarch, is a universal inclination (or perhaps more accurately should be). The title of this exhibition is very appropriate. Kokum, which means ‘grandmother’ in Cree, is a reminder that we should all acknowledge the wise women of this earth and the traditions that they hold in their hands, hearts and minds.
Interested in exhibiting in the Alternator’s Main Gallery? Check out the Submission Guidelines.