Northern Tutchone artist in Yukon finalist for Sobey Art Award

A First Nations interdisciplinary artist who lives in Whitehorse, Yukon is one of five finalists for this year’s Sobey Art Award.

Krystle Silverfox is already guaranteed $25,000 and if she wins this will increase to $100,000.

Interviewed at the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa she could barely conceal her enthusiasm at being selected as a Sobey finalist.

“It’s surreal, I can’t believe I made it this far,” Silverfox said. “I am so thrilled. I grew up in Vancouver, I live in the Yukon. So, I could not be more thrilled to represent the West Coast-Yukon and it’s just so touching to be here.”

Silverfox is a member of the Selkirk First Nation located in Pelly Crossing, Yukon.

Her art often explores such issues as Indigenous feminism, decolonization, lived experience and connections to land through sculpture and photography.

Krystle Silverfox

Materials used have layered meanings within both a traditional and colonial construct.

For example, Silverfox regularly uses copper to show its importance as a commodity mined by settlers but also for its use in Indigenous pre-colonial trade.

“We would actually use copper to trade with the Tlingit people and they would actually create copper shields, knives, all sorts of different tools” she said. “We also made copper knives and such but it’s not as documented as the Tlingit people.”

Another common material is the Hudson’s Bay blanket.

“The Hudson’s Bay blanket also has this unfortunate history of spreading disease, so, I’m thinking a lot about the Hudson’s Bay blanket as a colonial tool that I rip apart as an act of decolonization but also I’m thinking about the act as reflecting back to my identity as a northern Tutchone woman.”

Three of Silverfox’s more recent works – All That Glitters is Not Gold, Copper + Concrete and Landmarks are currently on display at the National Gallery.

At an event to announce the five Sobey finalists, National Gallery associate curator of historical Indigenous art Wahsontiio Cross said her work is starting to gain significant attention.

“To take something that is valuable in that way and then to turn it into something that is a commodity,” she said. “With the pennies as well and they have the stamp of the Queen’s head. It’s so rich when you really look into the materials that are used.”

With the $25,000 Silverfox said she will probably use it to pay off credit card debt and if she wins the Sobey award and gets $100,000, who knows?

And her words of wisdom for aspiring young Indigenous artists?

“I say use anything and everything to make your art. If it’s garbage, so be it. You know, our objects around us say so much about our world and our experiences. And, don’t give up on it.”

The Sobey Art Award winner will be announced on Nov. 16.

Editor’s Note: The original story said Krystle was a Tlingit artist. She is Northern Tutchone from Selkirk First Nation. We apologize for the error.

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