Gallery Glance: Coronavirus Mask Commission Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art

“Honour Mask” (2020), by Métis artist Lisa Shepherd, made from velveteen, glass beads, porcupine quills, tin cones, horse hair, beaver fur, ribbon, cotton “kohkôm” print lining, nylon thread and sinew. (Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art)

This “Honour Mask” by Métis artist Lisa Shepherd is one of six coronavirus masks commissioned by the Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art from Native American, Indigenous and First Nations artists.

“The Honour Mask is a tribute to the people who have crossed over to spirit because of the Covid-19 virus . . . and for their families who are grieving,” according to the artist, who lives on the West Coast of British Columbia. “I hope it will bring them some healing.”

The colorful, intricately worked mask employs materials traditional to the Métis peoples as well as trades goods and exemplifies the Métis floral beadwork style, Otipemisiwak.
Each element carries meaning.

“The medallions at each side of the mask include beaver fur, as a nod to the trades goods that brought my great grandfathers to this land,” Shepherd explains in her artist statement.
“Horsehair tassels represent us as horse people; the horse used during our great buffalo hunts and the sound of their gallop echoes in our dance steps (Métis jigging). The raised rope stitch is a tribute to my Haudenosaunee great grandmothers. They remind me of how interconnected we all are.

“The central beaded flower is the Forget-me-not and has double meaning in this case. You will often find Forget-me-nots on Métis artwork as an act of defiance against being called The Forgotten People. I have it central on this mask so that we remember the people who have been lost to this virus, first and foremost. The blue zigzag quillwork represents water. The water and berries are for nourishment to take with them as they make their journey to spirit.”

The commissioned masks will be featured in an upcoming exhibition at the Nerman, according to the museum’s executive director, Bruce Hartman, who said the museum would also like to exhibit them in conducive hospital lobbies.

Alice Thorson

Alice Thorson is the editor of KC Studio. She has written about the visual arts for numerous publications locally and nationally.

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