The coulees remember the glaciers. Memories of a long-gone ice sheet are evident across the prairies, and for artist and University of Lethbridge alumna Ooleepeeka (Oolee) Eegeesiak (BA ’19), these histories are deeply intertwined with her own.
Oolee is the artist and curator behind the newest exhibition at the ULethbridge Art Gallery Christou satellite space. Titled Coulees Remember Glaciers, the exhibit utilizes works of poetry, illustrations and more to relate experiences of displacement, diaspora, kinship, intergenerational skills, alienation and imagined utopia.
Born in Iqaluit, Nunavut and raised in Alberta, Oolee is able to create connections to culture and place through the ecology and storytelling of her exhibit, allowing her, an Inuk/qallunaaq to weave kinship while on traditional Treaty 7 territory.
“The title of the exhibition is a reference to how melting ice shaped the landscape around us and how the topography still reflects that,” says Oolee.
“I chose the title to draw parallels between the glaciation of this landscape and my own life experiences as an Inuk in Treaty Seven. I was born in the north, a place associated with glaciers, and now live where coulees hold a legacy of ice. The distance between here and there is vast, but relationships emerge upon closer observation.”
Oolee’s own family is centrally featured in the exhibition, something she says she is proud to do.
“My siblings being in the show is really special because as adoptees, it just shows how extending kinship into other realms is so important, including beyond the human and that's such a central aspect of the show as well.”
Another skill Oolee is proud to showcase with the show is her sewing. She says the intergenerational practice of Inuit sewing allows her to carry on the tradition, stories and familial care associated with the practice in the Arctic.
In addition to being an alumna, Oolee works at the ULethbridge Art Gallery as an assistant curator. She curated the Art Gallery’s previous show, Every possible future is multispecies, in the Hess Gallery and was recently selected to participate in a professional workshop through the Inuit Futures in Arts Leadership Curatorial Institute, run by the Inuit Futures program. The workshop supports Inuit and Inuvialuit to become leaders in their communities across various areas of the arts through hands-on mentoring and training opportunities.
“My time at the Inuit Futures Curatorial Institute was a very encouraging experience. Meeting with other Indigenous people in the arts in such a supportive, welcoming and truly Inuk space was so special and something I hope to create and see more of in future pursuits,” says Oolee.
“It really emphasized the importance of connections and kinship despite distance, which is the central concept in the work in Coulees Remember Glaciers.”
This exhibition is part of the larger Weather Collection project, a cross-Canada partnership between the ULethbridge Art Gallery and art galleries from Queens University and the Yukon Arts Centre, among others. Supported through a grant from the Canada Council for the Arts, Weather Collection is a series of online storytelling events and exhibitions that invite audiences across Canada to build relationships with the future of the planet. The project collaborates with artist Lisa Hirmer and emboldens us to consider how weather has shaped our spaces and how we might work together to address and survive the climate crisis.
Lisa herself is the feature artist in the new Hess Gallery exhibition, Everything We Have Done is Weather Now, which brings together photographs of weather data to bridge the divide between our everyday observances of weather and the enormity of the climate crisis.
For Oolee, being able to have her first exhibition on the very campus she graduated from is an exciting opportunity.
“I find it really special to have my first show ever at the school I graduated from, just because I spent so many years walking through that hallway and seeing the works of other artists. Since I live and work here and graduated from here, I hope to make some more community connections through the show.”
She adds that her hope for this exhibition is for viewers to remember their own embeddedness in ecosystems, but also find appreciation for dinosaurs, aliens and sci-fi, all things Oolee loves.
Coulees Remembers Glaciers is at the Helen Christou Gallery from January 13 to March 24, 2023.