Exhibit speaks to student’s exploration of her Métis heritage

By Costa Maragos Posted: January 22, 2018 6:00 a.m.

Sarah Timewell, Indigenous Arts student at First Nations University, set out to learn about her Métis heritage. Her journey is expressed through her art at the latest exhibit at the Fifth Parallel Gallery.
Sarah Timewell, Indigenous Arts student at First Nations University, set out to learn about her Métis heritage. Her journey is expressed through her art at the latest exhibit at the Fifth Parallel Gallery. Photo by Trevor Hopkin - U of R Photography

The walls of the U of R’s Fifth Parallel Gallery’s current exhibit are dotted with a dozen portraits of the same little black dress.

On each one, viewers will discover a colourful accent of a specific berry plant, native to Saskatchewan.

The exhibit, Little Medicine Dress, is the work of artist Sarah Timewell, a fourth-year Indigenous Arts student at First Nations University of Canada. Her solo show is her BFA graduating exhibition.
The exhibit tells the story of Timewell’s recent discovery of her Métis roots, during a 2011 meeting with her birth mother.

“Learning of my Métis heritage, I set out on a path to regain lost knowledge, as my family did not know their Métis roots. I had to learn about my culture through other methods,” says Timewell.

Sarah Timewell
The black dress is also displayed next to a table with samples of the medicinal plants featured
in the exhibit. Photo courtesy of External Relations

Timewell has been an artist all her life and says the constant has been her love of nature and an appreciation for Indigenous culture.

Timewell grew up in Vancouver. When she decided to pursue her BFA, she was drawn to the Indigenous Arts program at First Nations University.

“I knew that would be the perfect place to expand my artistic skills and experience my culture,” she says.

In consulting with her professors, including David Garneau from the Visual Arts Department at the U of R, she came up with the black dress idea.

“I wanted to use something that was socially recognizable as female empowerment,” says Timewell. “The little black dress is available to anybody. It doesn’t matter your class or how much money you can spend, which is why I chose the black dress.”  

The plants on each portrait are drawn with coloured pencils; some are enhanced with charcoal.

Timewell has extensively researched each plant, spending hours walking, identifying, and photographing them and collecting samples from areas including the Wascana Trails, White Butte Trails, and Buffalo Pound Provincial Park.

“In an effort to approach the Indigenous content in a good way, I spoke with Elder Brenda Dubois and First Nations University Instructor Keith Bird. Each of these individuals gave me a small amount of knowledge about particular plants specific to ailments I am suffering with.”
Examples of the plants featured a high bush-cranberry and a common juniper.

For each portrait, the plants are strategically drawn over the organs whose health they may improve and relate to Timewell’s own health and well being.

The exhibit includes a table – set up to mirror Timewell’s studio complete with the actual plants used in the show.  
 Visitors will also see a plain kitchen table in the middle of the gallery.

“I use the table as a meeting place, for people to sign my journal and on certain days when I’m here, to serve tea to visitors,” says Timewell.

The show has been well received.

“It feels really wow,” says Timewell who has consistently reached the Dean’s list. “It has been a difficult journey so this is a huge achievement. I’ve tried my best to maintain a high level of my academics while working at a part-time job.”

Timewell will graduate in the Spring and is considering pursuing a Master’s degree.
The exhibit will remain on display at the Fifth Parallel Gallery in the Riddell Centre until Friday, January 26. A closing reception takes place Thursday, January 25 from 4:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. The event is open to the public.

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