By Jake Cardinal, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
(ANNews) – Faye HeavyShield, a member of the Blackfoot Confederacy from the Kainai (Blood) Nation, has been awarded the prestigious 2021 Gershon Iskowitz Prize, which is given to an artist who has made an outstanding contribution to visual arts in Canada.
The award, named after painter Gershon Iskowitz (1921–1988), is the country’s second-largest art prize after the $100,000 Sobey Art Award.
The prize includes for the first time a $75,000 cash award as well as a solo exhibition at the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO), which is one of the largest art museums in North America, attracting approximately one million visitors annually.
In a career spanning a life-time, HeavyShield has exhibited in solo and group exhibitions nationally and internationally, including Nations in Urban Landscapes at the Contemporary Art Gallery in Vancouver; kuto’iis (blood) at the Southern Alberta Art Gallery: Native Women Artists, at the Minneapolis Institute of Art; Clans, at the Southern Alberta Art Gallery; and more.
Institutions that house her work include the National Gallery of Canada; the McMichael Canadian Art Collection; the Alberta Foundation of Art; the Glenbow Museum; the Heard Museum; the Eiteljorg Museum of Native American Art and Western Art; the MacKenzie Art Gallery and the Kelowna Art Gallery.
HeavyShield draws on her experiences of the traditional ways of life of her ancestors to create powerful installations and sculptures that incorporate concepts of family, home and a relationship to the land, in particular that of the Kainai (Blood) Nation in Southern Alberta where she grew up and where she still lives.
Her practice, she has said, is a reflection, of her environment and personal history, with the past, present and imaginary serving as her unique vocabulary.
Minimalist in appearance, her artworks feature repeating forms and recurrent motifs, including spirals, circles, grids, and lines, which may evoke a sense of community, as seen in the photo pictured below, titled Wave (2018).
In a previous interview for her Calling Stones exhibition at the Art Gallery of Alberta, HeavyShield said, “My art is a reflection of my environment and personal history as lived in the physical geography of southern Alberta with its prairie grass, river coulees, and wind and an upbringing in the Kainai community.”
“The past, present and imagined make up the vocabulary used to realize my thoughts and ideas; responses and references to the body, land, language,” she said.
Natural materials, imagery and sounds appear frequently in her installations and sculptures, recalling the landscape to which she feels a strong connection.
Beyond the significant impact of HeavyShield’s work over more than three decades and the visual language she has developed, the members of the jury also cited her role as a mentor, and the strength she has shown within the Indigenous community.
Previously, she was the recipient of an Eiteljorg Native American Contemporary Art Fellowship and received the Lieutenant Governor of Alberta Distinguished Artist Award in 2021.
More details about Faye HeavyShield’s exhibition at the AGO in 2023 will be announced as they become available.