By Shannon Boklaschuk
The University of Saskatchewan (USask) has launched ohpinamake, a new prize for Indigenous artists, made possible thanks to the generous support of donors Jim and Marian Knock.
The donors, originally from Saskatchewan and now residing in Victoria, B.C., have provided $50,000 for ohpinamake, which will be administered by the USask Art Galleries and Collection in the College of Arts and Science. An award of $10,000 will be provided annually for the next five years to Indigenous artists whose territories intersect with the current colonial borders of Canada.
“The creation of the ohpinamake award is a step toward reconciling centuries of Indigenous artists having gone unnoticed within Western culture,” said Dr. Angela Jaime (PhD), USask interim vice-provost, Indigenous engagement. “This recognition is for artists challenging our perception of difference and creating new space for thinking outside the box.”
The word ohpinamake is a nêhiyawêwin (Cree) term meaning “to lift others.” The name was gifted to the USask Art Galleries and Collection by a group of three Indigenous community leaders: Elders Maria Campbell and Louise Bernice Halfe – Sky Dancer, and artist and USask alumna Ruth Cuthand (BFA’83, MFA’92).
Jim and Marian Knock sought to partner with USask to create an award that positions art to bridge differences. They see Indigenous art, along with sensorial engagement between all Canadians, as the way to communicate most fully the knowledge needed to move forward together in the spirit of reconciliation.
“Art is the best visible example of the human spirit. Machines may exceed humanity in many endeavours but fail totally in the realm of artistic creation, and always will,” said Jim Knock, a USask graduate who earned his Bachelor of Science in Engineering degree in 1976. “Humans define, and are defined, by their art. Art is what we display when we create. Artists are persons who are challenged to create tangible expressions of personal perceptions. They are the true leaders of our exploration of the boundaries between mere existence and a full life.”
Application forms for the new ohpinamake award are now online and are available in English, French and Inuktitut. The application deadline is Jan. 15, 2022, and the first award recipient will be announced in the spring.
“The College of Arts and Science is the home of the arts on campus. The arts challenge us and push us to do better. They inform, inspire and illuminate. They are inclusive and collaborative—they promote understanding and community,” said Dr. Peta Bonham-Smith (PhD), dean of the College of Arts and Science. “We are so grateful to our donors, Jim and Marian Knock, for supporting the new ohpinamake art award. Their generous gift aligns with the college’s commitments to decolonization and reconciliation by uplifting the voices and visions of Indigenous artists and communities.”
The USask art galleries embrace the concept of Manacihitowin, a Cree/Michif phrase that means “let us respect each other.” They are also committed to making public the historical and contemporary art and creative practices that confront the urgent and critical matters of our time, whether they be social, political, esthetic, intellectual, environmental or cultural in nature.
“This means a large part of our programming and, ultimately, collecting processes engage, promote and learn from the exceptional practices of Indigenous artists and cultural workers. This is a necessary shift in resources to move towards conciliation but, more simply, to continue to bring the most generative and expansive works of art into the public spaces of the university,” said Prof. jake moore, director of the USask Art Galleries and Collection and a faculty member in the Department of Art and Art History in the College of Arts and Science. “I am grateful to Jim and Marian Knock for seeing the necessity in shifting resources, but also the exceptional capacity for art to move beyond language and into experience. This gift does what gifts do: it demonstrates our connection and bonds us together. May this connection continue to grow increased understanding and generate further shifts towards the deeper and necessary change we can offer one another, and that we need now.”
The new art award aligns with USask’s commitment to creation—acknowledging, resourcing and investing in wise practices and activities and conjuring the creative spirit that inspires innovation—through the university’s inaugural Indigenous strategy, ohpahotân | oohpaahotaan (“Let’s Fly Up Together”). It is the first Indigenous strategy that has been solely created by Indigenous people at a Canadian U15 research institution.
Please visit art.usask.ca for information about ohpinamake and about programming and activities occurring at the USask Art Galleries and Collection.