Local Indigenous artist Tanya Zilinski blends storytelling cultures in latest exhibit

Local Indigenous artist Tanya Zilinski blends storytelling cultures in latest exhibit

The exhibition Ó:xwest kw’e Shxwelí lá ye Mestiyexw (Giving Spirit to the People) by local artist Tanya Zilinski (Little Crow) is currently running at The Reach Gallery Museum in Abbotsford until 7 January.

Featuring tapestry weaving beadwork, the exhibition is a contemporary blend of traditional Coast Salish storytelling with traditional Anishinaabe storytelling. Zilinski says it is important to them to show this cultural connection as well as the creativity and artistic development of indigenous art.

“They’re tapestries that tell the whole story of our Coast Salish and stories from that area, but in a very Anishinian way,” says Zilinski. “My husband and children are Coast Salish from this area. And I got permission [from Coast Salish weavers] can do [Coast Salish] weaving, but I felt like I wanted to be able to tell the stories in my own way. Being Anishinaabe, I wanted to unite both cultures for our children and for our grandchildren and great-great-grandchildren…because they have such cultural significance to us.”

Zilinski, whose pronouns are They/Them, was born in the District of Hope and has lived there all his life. They are members of the Manitoba Metis Federation and have maternal ties to the Dakota, Cree, Anishinaabe, and Huron Wendat nations of the Plains and Great Lakes regions. They are Polish and Ukrainian on their father’s side.

A member of the Indigenous Arts Collective of Canada (IACC) – a non-profit organization that acts as a directory for verified Indigenous artists across Canada – Zilinski’s love for traditional weaving beadwork began when they were teenagers; At the age of 15 they were taught the trade by the late Mary Sandoval, a Chawathil First Nation elder.

“I just found myself really loving this particular craft…I loved playing around with different designs on the graph paper and then and then banging them on the loom and watching them come out.” It was so exciting.”

After being tutored by Sandoval, Zilinski continued to develop his craft and soon developed his own self-taught style of creating his art. Much of their process is instinctive, especially when it comes to choosing colors and having confidence in how each design will turn out. However, due to life and the fact that he became a parent to six children, Zilinski had to put bead weaving on hold. Therefore, it would be until 2019 before Zilinski would give his full attention to the craft.

In 2020 they would create their first tapestry, intended as a family heirloom. Zilinski says that making that first tapestry was incredibly important to them as they wanted to leave something behind for their children and future descendants.

“It’s about passing on the cultural meaning and the stories and passing the oral teachings down to the family,” says Zilinski. “Well, the very first one I did, I didn’t even know if I was going to make it. So it was kind of my experiment to see if I could actually make something that big. And then, once I was, I found out, okay, I can actually do this like it’s something that can be done. Then it just kept growing and the tapestries kept getting bigger.”

Their latest project, which is still in progress, is a fully loom tapestry measuring 1.80 x 1.90 m, which they have been working on for 11 months. Zilinski says they plan to post the work on their social media once it’s complete, and possibly feature it in an upcoming exhibition.

Aside from completing this new tapestry, her next goal is to exhibit her work nationwide; They are currently in talks with Ottawa Art Gallery Senior Curator Rachelle Dickenson and Nova Scotia College of Art and Design (NSCAD) Carla Taunton to exhibit their work.

“It is important for me to also share [my work] just so people can see the possibilities. Because it was even hard for me to imagine something like that [these tapestries] could be made from these tiny little seed beads. And you don’t know what’s possible until you actually try.”

For those interested in going to Abbotsford to see her work, entry to The Reach is free. Zilinski also has an upcoming show from February 23 through April. 10, in the gallery of Langley Civic Center. They have also been commissioned to create a permanent piece for the upcoming Seabird Island First Nation Cultural Center.

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