Changing the way we see people who live ‘in the margins’ of society

By Costa Maragos Posted: October 8, 2017 6:00 a.m.

The Archway Gallery features 'In the Margins' by artist Katherine Bird.
The Archway Gallery features 'In the Margins' by artist Katherine Bird. Portrait photos by Rae Graham - U of R Photography

Katherine Bird hopes her artwork will change the way people see those who live on the margins of society.

In the Margins features 14 of Bird’s paintings now on display as part of the Fall Exhibition at the Archway Gallery located on the main floor of the the Dr. John Archer Library.

“The people I portray are those who for the most part self-identify as being marginalized,” says Bird, who, in addition to being an artist, has worked in private practice in social work for most of her career in her hometown of Prince Albert, SK.

Katherine Bird
Katherine Bird is a social worker and a U of R graduate. She has remained active in the arts community in her hometown of Prince Albert.
Photo courtesy of Shirley Barg.

The In the Margins project started in 2013 and Bird continued working on it while she was the artist-in-residence for the U of R’s Michele Sereda Residency in Socially Engaged Practice.

This residency is a partnership between the Faculty of Social Work and the Faculty of Media, Art, and Performance.

Bird has a BA in Social Work from the U of R. She has also earned a master's in Adult Education from Alberta’s Athabasca University and a degree in Psychology at the University of Saskatchewan.

Each art piece includes a written narrative describing the lives and challenges of the subjects.

  • Bobby, who works at the local recycling centre.
  • Blaine, the 50-year-old who has lived most of his life in foster and group homes and spent a lot of time in hospitals.
  • Murray once had a home and a section of land and a family before he fell ill with multiple sclerosis.
  • Sharon who sought a new life away from home at 14 and now in her adult life seeks to inspire others through empowerment and more.
  • The at-risk teen girl from Saskatchewan’s far north, seeking comfort as she snuggles up to her mother as they await medical attention at an urban hospital.
  • A portrait of Augie Merasty, the co-author of the best-selling book The Education of Augie Merasty, published by U of R Press. Bird met Merasty before the book was published.

Bird show one

         "It's the land of plenty!"

Bird show 2

               "Sharon"

“One of my first jobs was working at the Friendship Centre with transient people. I was 18 or 19 and I realized at that age these people were teaching me so much,” says Bird, a self-described people watcher.

“At that age, I was struggling with life itself and something I needed to know for myself would come out of the people you would least expect. There were words of wisdom from them talking about life. You see how much resilience and strength people carry in them. That’s really fascinated me. Now when I see somebody on the street, that’s when I want to know them.”

These stories are told on canvas with bright colour bursts.

Bird uses an eye-dropper and every bit of paint on these works is done one drop at a time. She uses 50 to 100 cups of colour mixes.

“I don’t use brushes. The dropper is very meticulous and sometimes I am working in two, or three or four applications. It is very slow,” says Bird.

The pigment is mixed with liquid varnish and according to Bird is “very touchable. It has a nice texture to it. Smooth and bumpy. Somebody described it to me as being almost 3-D.”

bird show 4

     "Before The Fast" - Donna

bird show 3

     "I am a Writer" - Augie Merasty

The Sereda residency included four social work students from the U of R who did interviews and took photos of some of the subjects featured in the show. One of the students, Mikaela Muskwa, also has some pieces on display at the Archer Library.

“I hope that people who see these paintings also stop to read the stories. I guess what I’m hoping comes out of it is more understanding and compassion for these people," says Bird.

In the Margins is part of the Fall Exhibition at the Archway Gallery and will remain on display until December 20.

The Archer Library encourages artist submissions for consideration. For more information please visit here.