Adrian Stimson’s bison paintings force viewers to reckon with Canada’s colonial history


A solitary bison walks the snow-protected Prairie plains, swathed in rich colors of purple and darkish brown, the only signal of daily life in an usually barren landscape.

Versions of this impression look around and above yet again in Alberta Indigenous artist Adrian Stimson’s to start with solo European exhibit, which opened in London, England, on Could 16. 

Stimson mentioned he hoped his collection, entitled Manifest Buffalo: A Bison Dream, would produce a place for people today to have interaction in conversations about Canada’s dim historical past with Indigenous individuals. 

The title of the exhibit is a nod to “manifest destiny,” the 19th-century cultural belief that the North American settlers were being destined to colonize the continent.

Adrian Stimson is a celebrated Indigenous artist from Alberta who was awarded the Governor General’s Award for Visible and Media Arts in 2018, the Blackfoot Visual Arts Award in 2009, the Alberta Centennial Medal in 2005 and the Queen Elizabeth II Golden Jubilee Medal in 2003. (Lauren Sproule/CBC)

“As human beings, we all have to get alongside. But that would not signify that we really should fail to remember what took place, because when we forget about what happens … it will continue on to materialize,” explained the 58-year-outdated Stimson, a member of the Siksika Initially Nation, who spoke to CBC on the night of the opening. 

In 36 paintings created specially for the exhibition, Stimson reimagines the bison in a variety of scenes: sharing the canvas with a nuclear explosion fenced in by a pipeline and a calf playfully leaping via the air, an oil rig in the history.

The bison has found its way into Stimson’s work due to the fact he started painting in 1999. This painting juxtaposes a jumping calf with an oil pumpjack. (Lauren Sproule/CBC)

The juxtaposition of this centuries-outdated icon of the Prairies roaming following to fashionable-day products these as an plane was not lost on art supporter Adam Heaton, who visited the show on opening night. 

“You will find a previous, present and long term topic likely on right here, but you are not quite sure what the potential is, and there is certainly an inherent pressure in that,” claimed Heaton.

‘This is one thing different’

Housed in a modest gallery at Gurr Johns, an artwork advisory and appraisal team, Stimson’s selection is a welcome change in style from the functions of Outdated Masters that had adorned the walls of the place just a 7 days right before, explained senior director Spencer Ewen.

“This is some thing diverse,” Ewen explained, “but similarly legitimate and equally pertinent.” 

Manifest Buffalo: A Bison Desire Current 6, oil and graphite on canvas. (Adrian Stimson)

He mirrored on the significance of an Indigenous voice acquiring a platform on the historic Pall Shopping mall, “the bastion of standard art,” which was the centre of London’s fantastic artwork scene in the early 19th century.

After property to the Royal Academy, the National Gallery and Christie’s auction dwelling, the artists who have been permitted to develop and showcase their perform below were white, European gentlemen.

Stimson, who is not only Indigenous but has a gender-bending alter moi named Buffalo Boy, gives a potent distinction.

Manifest Buffalo, which opened in London on Could 16, marks Adrian Stimson’s initially solo European exhibition. Other solo exhibitions are prepared for Germany and Japan in the coming year. (Lauren Sproule/CBC)

Stimson’s solo European debut was attended by Jonathan Sauvé, the head of public diplomacy for the Large Commission of Canada in the United Kingdom, who thanked Stimson for bringing his artwork to

“Canada has a ton of function to do … but we really imagine that arts and tradition are probably the ideal way to advance Indigenous reconciliation and expression,” said Sauvé. 

Stimson, whose Blackfoot identify is Little Brown Boy, started portray in 1999, just after he still left his function as a tribal councillor for his Very first Country. He considers himself to be an interdisciplinary artist, and his sculpture, pictures and performances have been offered across Canada and internationally. 

This is not the 1st time Stimson’s reimaginings of the bison have caught the consideration of the London art scene. In 2016, two of his paintings were being bought by the British Museum for its Blackfoot assortment.

The position of the bison

The historical and cultural importance of the bison to Very first Nations is a significant element of why the animal attributes so prominently in his dossier, Stimson stated. 

Manifest Buffalo: A Bison Dream Previous 1, oil and graphite on canvas. (Adrian Stimson)

Bison was a source of foodstuff and outfits as nicely as a fixture of Siksika spirituality, amid other purposes, that was pretty much solely wiped out by the fur trade, as specific in George Colpitts’s 2014 guide Pemmican Empire: Food, Trade and the Past Bison Hunts in the North American Plains, 1780–1882.

“Each and every time I paint a bison, it can be a memory of a person of individuals slaughtered,” explained Stimson.

“At that time of the slaughter, I imagine that that energy, those people particles, were being unveiled into the universe. And I believe that that it nevertheless exists in and all-around us. So as an artist, I get the pleasure and the privilege of getting able to sort of attain into that ether and type of seize that power, bring it into myself and build the get the job done.”

Sisika Nation’s romance with the Crown

At the exhibit opening, Stimson welcomed attendees in the Blackfoot language and wore his standard headdress as a implies of bringing his ancestors and descendants into the area, he reported.

He additional that donning his regalia also reaffirmed the Siksika Nation’s special relationship with the Crown, one particular that was cemented in laws by the signing of a treaty in 1877, which established an space of land for the tribes, promised annual payments from the Queen and ensured ongoing looking and trapping legal rights in trade for the Siksika ceding their legal rights to their standard territory.

At the opening, Adrian Stimson welcomed attendees in the Blackfoot language and wore his conventional headdress. He mentioned it was a way to convey his ancestors and descendants into the place. (Lauren Sproule/CBC)

Stimson preserved that this “country-to-country partnership” will continue being potent as extensive as “the sunshine shines, grass grows and river flows.”

Manifest Buffalo is opening the exact same week that other members of Stimson’s nation are travelling to a museum in Exeter, in southwestern England, to repatriate numerous objects belonging to Crowfoot, a late-nineteenth-century Blackfoot chief.


Stimson himself was invited to participate. As a previous president of the First Nations Confederacy Lifestyle Education Centres, Stimson reported he “forwarded a ton of laws” on the repatriation of historic artifacts.

The artist said that in “bringing the herd” to London, the bison has when all over again develop into a indicates of survival, stirring painful reminiscences of colonization and training the entire world about the resilience of his men and women.

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