Sharon Hunter’s ‘Souvenir’ exhibits at the Debajehmujig gallery

Artist Sharon Hunter stands by ‘Manitou Motel’ one of her paintings during the opening reception for ‘Souvenir,’ an exhibit of her new works being held at the K.B. Reynolds Mastin Gallery in the Debajehmujig Creation Centre. photo by Michael Erskine

MANITOWANING—From Prince Albert, to Bridal Back, to her current home in Blind River, Sharon Hunter’s journey as an artist has been one of many roads and her earliest travels with her parents instilled a fascination with the road that has informed her art and provided a lens through which many questions travel.

Ms. Hunter’s latest exhibition of new works, hanging at Debajehmujig’s K.B. Reynolds Mastin Gallery is entitled ‘Souvenir,’ and evokes that sense of wonder and mystery inherent in the road.

“What began as a child’s fascination continues,” she said. “As I am examining more deeply the idea of objects as mnemonic. The installation for souvenir is a place which begins with the iconic highway motels dotted along the Trans Canada Highway.”

‘Souvenir’ is a microcosm of some of Ms. Hunter’s previous work which involved a series of full-sized billboards  placed along the highway, large murals which explored the stories of different groups of people, from First Nation elders and women of Algoma Mills to the last work in that series in Thunder Bay which focussed on waterkeepers.

A series of idyllic landscape paintings, rescued from a soon to be demolished derelict motel, form a base upon which are layered photo images of motel signage, marrying the Northern décor that once soothed a motel patron with images of motel signs, motels of which many are now themselves disappearing from the landscape—often leaving behind only the ghostly presence of the motel signs themselves.

“The idea is to skew, obscure and disassemble notions of land as an idyllic free space and instead construct parallel divisions and acknowledge the theft and reclamation of land treaty rights,” she said.

The parallel extends to Ms. Hunter herself, whose Indigenous heritage was passed down by blood through her Indigenous father, but her upbringing was bereft of cultural heritage and knowledge and the connection to the land.

Ms. Hunter’s work layers questions and images, trade blanket stripes, geometric forms, clan animals, eagles, bears, raven and pike travel into her work bringing along those teachings which she has spent a lifetime seeking out and discovering in her artist’s journey.

Visitors to the exhibit can bring away their own souvenir, a mnemonic device to help them continue their own inquiry into unpacking the questions found on life’s road—postcards with images screen-printed upon tarpaper, “a simulacrum for a long tarmac highway,” explains Ms. Hunter.

One of her works entitled ‘Manitou Motel’ poses a contemporary question.

“What does Manitou mean?” she asks. “I have been told, ‘a great spirit’.” The juxtaposition of that name and its meaning with the concept of a motel and the settler occupation of the land is just one of the questions explored in her work.

The May 7 opening reception featured an amazing charcuterie and music by Patrick O’Leary and Norman Assiniwe.

‘Souvenir’ is on exhibit at Debajehmujig’s gallery, 43 Queen Street in Manitowaning until June 30.