Monday, September 9, 2013

An Interview with Arts Curator Amber-Dawn Bear Robe

Amber-Dawn Bear Robe
From September 10 through March of next year the Tweed Museum of Art is hosting a major exhibition titled Blood Memoirs: Exploring Individuality, Memory, and Culture through Portraiture. Amber-Dawn Bear Robe is the guest curator of this show which will include works of exceptional quality and range by Jamison
Charles (Chas) Banks, David Young-Wolff, Big Bear (of White Earth), Sue Johnson, Annie Leibovitz, Norval Morrisseau (Anishinaabe) and Clara Gardner Mairs. The opening reception for this exhibition will be held the evening of Tuesday, October 22, 2013 with a presentation that evening by Ms. Bear Robe followed by a performance by Adrian Stimson as Buffalo Boy.

EN: How did you first become interested in art as a form of expression?
ADBR: I have been interested in creating and art for as long as I can remember, leading me to attend the Alberta College of Art & Design directly after high school. An exhibition that changed and rooted my direction to focus on the contemporary Native North American art scene was the exhibition Indigena, curated by Gerald McMaster and Lee-Ann Martin. I visited the exhibition at age 19, second year of college, at the Glenbow Museum, which is a museum that houses materials and photos of my direct family and relatives. Clifford Cranebear, from Siksika Nation (same reserve as me) was the museums’ cultural liaison at the time and gave us a tour of the exhibition (I saw the exhibition as a class outing with fellow students). He interpreted the story in such an informative, yet fascinating way that included storytelling, biographical information about the artists and history of Native North American. I am still moved when I remember the first time I saw that exhibition.

The path was set and I have never looked back.

EN: What kind of work do you do as an artist?
ADBR: I no longer consider myself an artist. Back in college days I majored in fiber arts/ mixed media. I am on the curatorial and arts administrative side now, and have been for a long time, getting my graduate degrees in Native Studies and Art History.

Yet I do consider curating and directing as a form of creativity and expression of my voice and vision.

EN: For this particular exhibition you are a guest curator at the Tweed Museum of Art. What are the responsibilities of a curator?
ADBR: Curator responsibilities are diverse and many depending on the organization one is curating for from the artist-run center to gallery, museum and community space. Basic tasks include: research, writing, studio visits, visiting the collections, organizing works of art, communication with arts organizations and artists, more research and more writing. That is just the tip of the iceberg. In-house curators have much more administrative responsibilities.

The most enjoyable component for me being guest curator is viewing collections I may not otherwise have visited, meeting new artists while working with familiar artists, interacting with museum/ gallery staff and the research and creation of an exhibition.

EN: What is the theme of this upcoming show and what will be the take-away for those who experience it?
ADBR: Blood Memoirs looks at the revealing story of self-portraits. The act of creation reveals something about the artist, social setting, and place in time and environment. Through the lens of the permanent collections of the Tweed Museum, the exhibition presents a contemporary vision of the North American Self. The artists in this exhibition chose how to represent themselves, environment and or significant others. We spotlighted a group of artist portraits, which leads to revealing artist identity and character, a form of archives of diverse memory and culture surfaces. Shared commonalities, as well as differences, extend beyond singularity to portray a segment collective portrait of North America. The illustrated self or family, in either fictional or representation scenes, creates a public diary of memories documenting personal lives, family, history and culture. The image of self and taking or presenting self through diverse mediums from Facebook, to Film, photography and visual art is a shared human practice creating an interesting platform of dialogue that has many trajectories.

I am hoping people will enjoy the exhibition and appreciate having a glimpse into the lives of different artists from various backgrounds. Also, to see similarities and differences between the artists as well as see themselves in relation to the show. A theme to Blood Memoirs is that there is no one reality, culture or experience that trumps or speaks for all. The artists in the exhibition are one tiny vignette with intent to be seen and absorbed as an inlet to more experiences.

EN: You were formerly Director/Curator of Urban Shaman: Contemporary Aboriginal Art located in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. In what ways are the Native Arts similar and different in Winnipeg and Santa Fe?
Adrian Stimson
The art scene in general differs between the two countries. Funding in the arts, although far from perfect, is much better in Canada compared to the United States, federally and provincially. A better funding structure for the arts allows an artist to focus on arts for art’s sake rather than being so focused on the sales of an end product.

Indigenous art has its own unique history and scene particular to the region, city and genre, just as the Southwest Native arts has a distinct niche and expression. A big difference in the Winnipeg arts compared other cities I have worked in is the collaborative effort between arts organizations. Winnipeg is ranked one of the highest arts cities in Canada, beating Toronto. I believe a reason for this is based on the support Winnipeg arts organizations give to one another and their artists. There is a sharing of information, collaborative programming, and a community effort that I have never experienced elsewhere.

EN: What are some of the insights you have gained from your various experiences in Arizona, Alberta and British Columbia?
ADBR: Insights gained: Each arts community is unique and I am grateful for all the opportunities I have had, artist and curators I have met and the wealth of lifestyle being in the arts provides to me.
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