‘Quill sisters’ who create traditional Mi’kmaw art launch Matues Revisited exhibit

Three Mi’kmaw women known as the “Quill sisters” who use porcupine quills to create traditional Mi’kmaw art will now have the main installation at a gallery in Halifax.

“We’re often thinking about our ancestors and our grandmothers who were making quillwork to sell to settlers,” Cheryl Simon tells APTN News. “And we’ve been thinking a lot about if they had been making art to be creative, as opposed to surviving, and to make money to get by with their families, how would have the art have formed.”

Pulling porcupine quills through birch bark is not as easy as it looks.

The quills are razor sharp – and not easy to come by.

Simon, of Abeqweit First Nation in Prince Edward Island who now lives in Dartmouth outside Halifax, gets her quills from roadkill.

She shares the quills that she harvests with her friends Kay Sark and Melissa Peter-Paul who both live in P.E.I. – where there are no porcupines.

quill sisters

The Mary E Black Gallery in Halifax is hosting the Quill sisters’ exhibit.

“I find that the Indigenous community often feels when they go into museums is that they are talking about us to someone else and it never feels like a space is ever made with us in mind,” says curator Aiden Gillis.

“So there is that beauty of trying to be inclusive, but we are feeling alienated no matter where we are by being on our own territory.”

The installation is called Matues Revisited.

Matues is Mi’kmaw for porcupine.

Gillis says quilling represents the past and the present.

“I really do see Indigenous artists as historians,” says Gillis. “The amount of research that goes into the work and the way artists have a way of summarizing that and putting that out into a moment for people can really help them see the world in a different way really.”

The exhibit will be on display from Jan. 21 until March 13.

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