U of Lethbridge: Indigenous artist Sarah Russell seeks support for community art installation
July 19, 2019
In the summer of 2017, the community of Lethbridge came together to support artist Sarah Russell, a University of Lethbridge student studying indigenous art studio, after her hillside art installation was vandalized near Fort Whoop Up. Inspired by the original artwork, and the strength of the community coming together to rebuild the work in less than an hour, Russell is at it again – this time installing a rock formation representing the Blackfoot Confederacy Flag on the U of L campus.
“I cannot finish this project myself,” says Russell. “I am working with the notion of reconciliation so I would like to invite interested individuals to participate in the installation, people who want to help and learn together. I believe in my heart this project is important and I hope that helps the non-Blackfoots dialogue more with understanding that land acknowledgement is not just a word but a place.”
Much like her first installation, the enormous installation piece represents community and unity. In order to make it the community project she envisioned, Russell enlisted the help of youth at G.S. Lakie and Kainai middle schools throughout May and June. Russell worked with the students to create a dialogue around culture, the Blackfoot Confederacy symbol, and the rocks themselves while participants assisted in hand painting rocks and leaving notes of love and encouragement.
Before asking for their help painting, Russell shared the story of her first art project and the way the community came together to help.
“Before that experience I never would have thought to ask for help. I wanted to do everything on my own, to have independence. But I’ve learned that it’s OK to ask for help and I want to challenge the youth so they know they can ask for help too. There’s something powerful in bringing people together, in being with people, helping each other.”
Russell hoped to inspire the youth with her message of unity and community support, but what she didn’t anticipate was that the youth would inspire her in return.
“There was one note that really stood out to me. It said, ‘Hard work beats talent, but when talent is called, talent calls on hard work,’” shares Russell.
Her inspiration for this project is the Blackfoot Confederacy symbol, a symbol of unity and togetherness.
“Blackfoot’s were not originally separated into tribes, but today we are still in the reservation era,” explains Russell. “The elder that created the confederacy symbol says ‘we’re stronger together’ and we are, not just the Blackfoot Confederacy, but as a society.”
Russell’s community art project looks to prove just that: we are stronger together. Installation of approximately 350 painted rocks on the hill outside the University Centre for the Arts will take place over the August long weekend (Aug 1-5). Interested volunteers are asked to register in advance as all volunteers will need to be briefed on health and safety protocols before participating in the installation process.
For more information and to sign up to volunteer, contact Sarah Russell at firstname.lastname@example.org.