Powerful, emotional, and reverential are some of the descriptions that have been used to describe Danielle Piper’s art.
Piper, a multi-disciplinary fibre artist, currently has a pair of shows at the Central Library and at The New Gallery in Chinatown.
She has skillfully woven her Cree and Metis heritage into her art, which complements her unique and accessible art with deep layers of meaning.
One of the must-see pieces is a canvas work that incorporates a photograph of her grandmother before being sent to Residential School. That work is on display at the Central Library.
“That piece to me is like a way of trying to reach back and insert some care and some strength into those lives,” said Piper.
Among the other must-see creations is a collaborative beaded quilt, which incorporated 50 individual contributions to the work.
“My grandmother was one who taught me to bead as a child, and I didn’t really pick it up fully until really I was in my undergrad and kind of figuring out what my art was,” she said.
The displays at the Central Library, and at The New Gallery run until May 30. Both exhibits are free for patrons.
Nêhiyawêwin is an important aspect of work on display
The work at the library came about as a result of Piper serving for three months as the Indigenous Artist in Residence.
“I was able to have conversations with people just dropping in as well, and conversations with people that I wouldn’t normally or that weren’t people who are typically interested in the arts, but who just came by my room and started talking to me or came across something and started a conversation about it,” said Piper.
“So I think getting the art in a place where it’s not typically just an art space is really valuable because it opens that up for a lot more people.”
One of the things Piper has been doing through her art is learning the language of the Cree peoples.
Once the most commonly spoken language in Canada, Nêhiyawêwin is a rich and idiomatic language that’s now being re-learned by many Cree members. It served as the language of trade, and for centuries prior to the reservation system in Canada, was even used by European settlers in Western Canada.
“I was starting to make art about my identity and about being Indigenous and then also learning my language, that was kind of a process that I think influenced my art,” said Piper.
Incorporated to the descriptions for the various works is the use of Nêhiyawêwin alongside Roman orthography.
“I’m just putting that in front of people: first of all I think it’s so beautiful,” she said.
“So it’s interesting to me that there is that significant history, but then I put it in front of people in my undergrad and I had comments like, ‘you know, is this Egyptian hieroglyphics’—people are so unfamiliar with it.”
Appropriately for the library, but also for The New Gallery, Piper said that it became almost like a conversation between English and Nêhiyawêwin.
“My Cree is pretty broken, and I’ve kind of embraced that as part of the art as a reflection of my struggle to reconnect with that, my struggle to reclaim that, and then the beauty of some moments where I find a word and it expresses something I didn’t realize I had been missing.”