June 5 – June 26, 2021
Darcie Bernhardt: Akisuktuaq
I am from Tuktuyaaqtuuq in the Northwest Territories, where the Arctic Ocean and streams were my playground and coated with snow. This has allowed me to create work about both the harsh conditions and the gentle flowers of the land.
I find inspiration in the voices of elders, the flowers of the boreal environment and the roots rich with berries and bright orange beams in the lush green lichen. I continue working with memory as a way of decolonial preservation, providing reclamation for myself and for other Inuvialuit and Gwich’in artists.
I explore how colonialism and contemporary lifestyle have changed my culture. I want to question and challenge the representation and appropriation of my northern cultures. My work is intergenerational, presenting not only one generation, but multiple. I want to continue to root storytelling within my work.
— Darcie Bernhardt
About the Artist
Darcie Bernhardt is an Inuvialuk/Gwich’in artist raised in Tuktuyaaqtuuq, NWT, where the ocean’s harsh winds carve into the Western Arctic landscape. Currently based in Halifax, NS, they are a graduate of NSCADU (BFA, 2019), and was awarded the Indigenous Artist Recognition Award from Arts Nova Scotia in 2020. Bernhardt was the Inuit Art Foundation’s highlighted artist at Art Toronto 2019, and is featured in RBC’s Emerging Artist Project. Their work and writing have been included several times in the Inuit Art Quarterly.
Bernhardt’s paintings have been exhibited across Canada, from Qaumajuq at the Winnipeg Art Gallery, to the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia. Their paintings sit in the permanent collections of the Royal Bank of Canada, Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada, and the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia.
Feheley Fine Arts is pleased to present Bernhardt’s first solo. The exhibition’s title Akisuktuaq is an Inuvialuktun word which, when translated to English, means “striking a shiny object with its rays.” Evocative of sparkle, light, and shine, Bernhardt’s paintings convey Akisuktuaq—from the medium they are primed with, to their play on highly concentrated light in both interior and exterior scenes.
“I chose this title because my paintings remind me of how the light is in the North: bright, strong, and shiny even in the darkest times of the year.”
Bernhardt’s paintings are large, but delicate. They mix oil paints with a thinning solvent which, when applied, resemble the softness of watercolour while retaining the vibrant colours of oil. In contrast with their vibrant colour use, Bernhardt is generous with negative space, further evoking the bright, reflective light that is Akisuktuaq. In works like Ninguqing (2012) and Nanogak (2021), large planes of white reflect the Northern sunlight bouncing off the snow, the water, or the sun in the sky itself, as if captured in an over-saturated photograph. Upon closer inspection, the planes of white are in fact sparkle-laden surfaces that shine in the light; a result of the artist’s preparation of the canvas.
“I prime my canvas with rabbit skin glue, and it reminds me of springtime when the snow looks like small diamonds scattered everywhere.”
Bernhardt uses photographs from their personal archives to make paintings that engage the perspectives of multigenerational family. In Nanuk Braiding My Hair Before Bingo (2019), a young Bernhardt sits on the carpeted living room floor against the legs of Nanuk (grandmother), who braids their hair from the couch. The boreal flora of the Inuvialuit region finds its way on to the fabric of Nanuk’s shirt and the blanket she sits on. The joyful hues that highlight the scene—pinks, purples, and greens—play with spots of canvas left blank to create an effect reminiscent of the strong northern sun reflecting off the snow. Though an interior scene, Bernhardt incorporates elements of the omnipresent northern outdoors. The work is typical of the artist’s signature style, staying true to the original memory yet enhancing it through colour, pattern, and technique. In this way, Bernhardt visually addresses that memories are ever-changing, whether in one’s own mind or through transmission from one generation to the next.
“Imagining how our memories constantly change is something that deeply informs my practice.”
Negative space also suggests the potential fleetingness of memory; the details that cannot be fully remembered except through one’s recollection. In this way, Bernhardt’s paintings are acts of decolonial preservation, presenting their own memories, experiences, and stories, from Inuvialuk/Gwich’in perspectives.
“It’s important for me to use my own archives as a way of memory keeping and intergenerational storytelling. I’m preserving the significant moments of the people who inspired and challenged me. It’s important to have representation of Inuvialuit and Gwichʼin people.”