June 21, 2021
UCalgary Nursing adds new Indigenous murals and artwork to student spaces
When you walk into the main floor foyer of the Professional Faculties Building, you’ll now be greeted by a striking new floor-to-ceiling mural by Blackfoot artist Kalum Teke Dan that honours Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG).
It’s the second mural by the renowned artist for the nursing faculty. In early 2019, Teke Dan created a mural titled Sunset Song in The Gathering Space, a smudging room at UCalgary Nursing around the corner from this new piece. In late 2020, while COVID-19 restrictions closed most of campus, Teke Dan created the mural and three new prints, some of which will hang in a room used for an upcoming Elder-in-Residence program at the faculty. The mural took six days to paint onsite.
“Part of the Indigenous strategy as a whole at the university is about providing a welcoming environment for Indigenous students where they can see themselves reflected in the environment,” says Louise Baptiste, director of Indigenous initiatives at UCalgary Nursing. “All of these areas, while they are Indigenous-focused, they’re not just for Indigenous students; they’re for everyone. That’s part of the culture, connecting and sharing our way and our art, in this case.”
Teke Dan is a self-taught artist from the Blood Tribe in Southern Alberta and is becoming more known as one of Western Canada’s top Aboriginal artists. His works, which celebrate First Nation culture and traditions, can be found in galleries across Canada and the United States and in many private and corporate collections.
Locally, you can encounter his art in Calgary City Hall, in the communities of Inglewood and Ramsay, on the side of the John Howard Society office building and in many downtown office towers. In 2020, he released a new book of his art which will be available locally and nationally.
On his collaboration with UCalgary Nursing, Teke Dan says it has been an honour. “I'm glad that I got the opportunity to paint these for sure and especially in the nursing faculty. I think those are the only two I have on campus right now, but I've already been getting calls from around the university from different faculties because of those two pieces.”
We asked him to share with us the story and inspiration behind the new art in his own words.
Moving Forward (image at top)
8x10 mural in acrylic
“Louise wanted a MMIWG theme so that's why I did the red dress. My idea, the image I had originally drawn out, was butterflies coming out of her shawl, but this time I chose doves to represent the missing and murdered women. It represents prosperity. The pose of the girl — I liked how her head is dipped but I wanted it to be more powerful: she's not sad but moving forward. I wanted it to have hope.
"A lot of the missing and murdered women artwork portrays sadness, but we want people to be moving forward. That’s why I chose the doves because it represents a different symbol, it represents moving on and peace. [The blue streak] represents the bond between the spirit world and our world.”
“As she beats the drum, she’s releasing all the spirits of the missing and murdered women so all the crows in the background are the spirits being released. When I do my artwork, I use a lot of symbolism that's regional. Being local and being Aboriginal, we used to camp by the mountains and by the rivers so I try and throw different elements in — either mountains or rivers or water symbols. It’s a bit more powerful: it's almost like showing our people are fighting. I want everybody to look at my work and feel proud and they don't even have to be Aboriginal.”
“These were originally created for the Calgary Stampede. I was featured in the Western Oasis Showcase in 2016, 2017 and 2018. That was a big part of my career because I used to walk through there as a teenager going, ‘I'm going to be in here one day.’ In 2018, my career really took off and I couldn't even do Stampede anymore because I had I started doing murals. I was a struggling artist up until like seven years ago. Within the last six years, my whole life has changed.
"The sacred fire is the teachings from all the tribes, not just one, because we all have different sets of teachings in each culture. I’m just representing the sacred fires as a whole. I like the golden eagle: they represent different things so I wanted to put both the golden and the bald eagle in it.”
“It’s inspired by my ancestors. Back in the 1800s, they journeyed through the States and settled in Canada. My grandfather is part Sioux and the stories of when they settled — they came across the mountains and settled where I come from, the Blood tribe. Basically, that was my illustration of riders working their way towards the mountains and that represented a journey home where they were going to settle. We were nomadic people and we kept moving with the seasons.
"Those are also family colours that was kind of our prominent colours we used on our outfits. I used to veer away from those colours, probably because of that and then, when I painted these paintings for the Calgary Stampede, that was really when my career really exploded.
"These images were in my head for years and I didn't know when I was going to paint them or even how I was going to use the colours but when I did, it seemed like it was time to start as they are sort of like a part of me.”
June 21 is National Indigenous Peoples Day. This is a day for all Canadians to recognize and celebrate the unique heritage, diverse cultures and outstanding contributions of First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples.
ii’ taa’poh’to’p, the University of Calgary’s Indigenous Strategy, is a commitment to deep evolutionary transformation by reimagining ways of knowing, doing, connecting and being. Walking parallel paths together, ‘in a good way,’ UCalgary will move towards genuine reconciliation and Indigenization.