Remai Modern hosts Maanipokaa’iini, first-ever survey of Adrian Stimson

Maanipokaa’iini means newborn bison in Siksikáí’powahsin, the Blackfoot language. The survey runs at the gallery until September.

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Adrian Stimson knew he was in the right place as soon as he pulled up to the paddock.

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The plains bison herd at Wanuskewin, usually far off in their pasture, had congregated near the gate as if to greet him.

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For an artist whose 20-year trajectory has traced the arc of the bison’s renewal, Stimson said it was a sign of good things to come — as was the late-season bison calf born the next day, which inspired his time as artist in residence at the park.

It also became the title of the first survey of his artistic practice. Maanipokaa’iini, which means ‘newborn bison’ in Siksikáí’powahsin, the Blackfoot language, is running at the Remai Modern until Sept. 5.

Stimson explores bison as a symbol of the cycles of renewal on the land, and the impact of colonial policies. His paintings depict bison on imagined, dreamlike landscapes. In his installation work, bison hides reference their near-extirpation and their resilience, which are tied up in his own identity as a Blackfoot person.

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“My use of (bison) in our times now is really looking at it as a continuum — that in spite of the historic slaughter, the bison coming back, and the imagination of the bison is still very prevalent and still very inspirational in everything we do.

“I look at myself as being someone who sort of still is part of that continuum in the sense that the buffalo still feeds me, it still ignites my imagination, and often is that animal that I pay a lot of respect and homage to,” he said.

Wanuskewin is also the place where Stimson’s performance art character, Buffalo Boy, was reborn. A parody of Buffalo Bill, Buffalo Boy is a campy pastiche of wild-west frontierism tropes infused with Stimson’s Two-Spiritedness and Blackfoot heritage.

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Buffalo Boy first came to life while Stimson was completing his Master of Fine Arts degree at the University of Saskatchewan. He lived in Saskatoon for 13 years before returning to Siksika Nation in 2017.

The character has been killed off a few times over the years; Stimson most recently put him to bed (in a literal sense) as he considered Buffalo Boy’s future. He was meant to wake up for a performance in Australia, but the pandemic dashed that plan.

The new-born bison at Wanuskewin — part of the second generation to be born on the land in more than a century — was enough to shake Buffalo Boy awake, Stimson said. That, and the need for a little love and levity after a trying few years.

“I’m bringing him back a little older and a little wiser — and we could debate the wiser,” Stimson said.

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He’s an example of the humour — and the “tickle and slap” method — that provide a lens for how a lot of his art is interpreted, especially when dealing with topics like his history in the colonialist day school system, Stimson said.

“You make people laugh, and then you slap — and then you hug them. And I think that’s what a lot of people find in my work, is that they’ll sort of look at it initially and start giggling. And then when they start examining, they’ll go, ‘Oh, that’s what’s going on.’

“Hopefully that opens up a space for people to examine further, and a trigger for themselves to learn more and understand more about their self in relation to the work. I think humour is a is a good way to go about it.”

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