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January 28, 2023 – April 09, 2023

Story Keeping

Artist Brittney Namaakii Bear Hat and Richelle Bear Hat

Photography by Sean Fenzl

All are Welcome to the Opening Reception on January 27th at 7 pm.

Story Keeping is an exhibition of new and existing work by Mohkinstsis (Calgary)-based artists Brittney Namaakii Bear Hat and Richelle Bear Hat. Drawing from their shared Blackfoot and Dane-zaa Cree heritage, the artists look to storytelling practices and legacies of land and language displacement through their experiences growing up in both rural and urban environments. Through sculpture, photography, drawing, and video, they share how stories can connect people and places, and ask what can be told, and what should be held close.

From blankets to frying pans, snapshots to Memojis, Richelle and Brittney work with images and objects as tethers to family connections. The collaborative 2016 work, Little Cree Women (Sisters, Secrets & Stories), presents a series of displays tied to family knowledge. Dried mint leaves and beaded moccasins, willow and birch bark, charcoal and braids of the artists’ own hair are set in shadow box frames. These beautiful objects are catalysts for memories and stories. They not only carry great significance for the artists, but they are also sites of contemplation about shared learning and intergenerational care.

The value of sharing language across generations is explored in Richelle’s video works: In Her Care, and nitssapaatsimaahkooka (she shared with me). In nitssapaatsimaahkooka personalized animated emojis, known as Memojis, become a means of communication through which the artist learns Nitsiipowahsin language from her grandma, Alona Theoret. As they take turns speaking, memojis presented on large video screens reveal many of the emotions that come to the fore when learning one’s own language. In a new special version of this work for Nanaimo Art Gallery, Richelle connects with Snuneymuxw Elder Shxuysulwut Lolly Good to share language across place and nation.

Blanketing is a custom shared across many indigenous cultures including Blackfoot and Cree communities, and is often tied to celebrating individuals during coming of age ceremonies or other rights of passage. For Story Keeping Brittney Namaakii Bear Hat has created a new large scale sculptural work that showcases blankets with family photographs printed on them. Brittney often works with cutouts from snapshots as a way of reconstituting stories and memories from her home territories, which are far from urban Mohkinstsis (Calgary) where both she and Richelle live and work. Printing these images on blankets, and incorporating sculpture and drawing into the display, Brittney adds deeper symbolic connection to these cherished pictures.

Brittney Namaakii Bear Hat and Richelle Bear Hat’s works carry a warmth and generosity towards their audiences, and yet they are careful with what they share, paying respect to the Story Keepers or original owners of images or mementos depicted. In this sense the title Story Keeping refers to an act of holding on to stories, as well as sharing them.

Story Keeping is the fourth exhibition through which Nanaimo Art Gallery asks the question, What stories do we tell?

Brittney Namaakii Bear Hat is a Mohkinstsis/Calgary-based artist, whose Blackfoot and Cree/Dane-zaa ancestors have lived on the lands that are now part of Treaty 7 and 8, for many millennia. Her work explores this cultural lineage through installation, photography, text and collage. Brittney graduated from the Alberta University of the Arts in 2011, where she majored in painting. Her work explores identity and story-telling, wanting to contribute to the rich stories of her home territories. Within her work, Brittney is unfolding that which ties her to these unique landscapes.

Brittney’s most recent work Hello My Girl was a part of Big Rock River: Contemporary Indigenous Art in an Ancient Land (2022) exhibition at The Okotoks Art Gallery. Other recent exhibitions include Related (2022) at Libby Leshgold Gallery, Vancouver; Visions of the Hunt (2018), at The Esplanade, Medicine Hat; níchiwamiskwém | nimidet | ma soeur | my
, Contemporary Native Art Biennial (BACA), Art Mûr, Montréal and I Believe in Living (2018), Untitled Arts Society, Calgary. Brittney has also been awarded the Joane Cardinal Schubert Memorial Scholarship in 2011 and the Sonia de Grandmaison Scholarship in 2013.

Richelle Bear Hat is a Calgary based Blackfoot/Dane-zaa Cree artist. The Bow River and Blueberry River have provided for her two families and have shaped how she connects with the land, her family and community. Understanding these relationships and experiences of shared memory is at the core of her artistic practice. Richelle is interested in the many ways knowledge can be exchanged within family mentorships and in return translated and honoured. Video, text, sound and paper-based works are the materials and means of production she uses as a platform for storytelling.

Richelle graduated from the Alberta College of Art + Design with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Drawing in 2011. She has since gone on to work with the Banff Centre as a Collections Practicum (formally work study) with the Walter Phillips Gallery, TRUCK Contemporary Art in Calgary as Engagement Coordinator, and is currently Coordinator of Indigenous Programs at the National accessArts Centre.



Nanaimo Art Gallery is situated in the traditional, ancestral, and unceded territory of Snuneymuxw First Nations, and we are grateful to operate on Snuneymuxw territory.



Nanaimo Art Gallery is situated in the traditional, ancestral, and unceded territory of Snuneymuxw First Nations, and we are grateful to operate on Snuneymuxw territory.