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MFA student Aurora Wolfe in her University of Saskatchewan studio space. (Photo: Chris Putnam)

Q&A: Aurora Wolfe, award-winning USask student artist

MFA student won a 2023 Outstanding Student Achievement in Contemporary Sculpture Award from the International Sculpture Center


Aurora Wolfe (BA’22), a student in the Master of Fine Arts studio art program at the University of Saskatchewan (USask), recently won an international sculpture award. Wolfe’s piece my body is the river that shapes the ground before you: part 1 was chosen as one of 10 winners of the New Jersey-based International Sculpture Center’s 2023 Outstanding Student Achievement in Contemporary Sculpture Award.

Wolfe, a member of Beardy’s and Okemasis’ Cree Nation originally from Mortlach, Sask., is this year’s only Canadian recipient of the prestigious prize. Her sculpture is currently on display at an exhibition of the winners at the Johnson Atelier in Hamilton, NJ, and she will be featured in an upcoming issue of Sculpture magazine.

Wolfe’s award-winning sculpture is made of long beaded earrings hung from hooks in an arrangement that speaks to her Cree heritage and the meandering path of a river. College of Arts and Science Department of Art and Art History associate professor Lisa Birke is Wolfe’s MFA supervisor, and Professor Susan Shantz nominated her work for the award.

Wolfe was also the 2022 winner of the BMO 1st ART competition for Saskatchewan. Before starting the MFA program, she graduated with a Bachelor of Arts (Honours) in Indigenous studies from USask.

We asked Wolfe about her artwork, inspirations and goals.

Tell us about your artistic practice. What are you focusing on during your MFA studies?

Aurora Wolfe: I am a multimedia artist, researcher and musician of Cree and Scottish descent. My work centres on the relationships between Indigeneity and institutions, teasing out stories that have been overshadowed by the dominant colonial narrative. I hold an interest in exploring dynamic relationality and creating art that generates acts of kinship with the past, present and future.

"my body is the river that shapes the ground before you: part 1" by Aurora Wolfe
"my body is the river that shapes the ground before you: part 1" by Aurora Wolfe. (Photo: submitted)

As a distracted artist, I move between many mediums such as painting, sculpture, beadwork and music. Over the course of my MFA studies, I have been focusing on the relationships between Indigenous bodies and the land, niska (geese) as a symbol for Indigenous complexities, and the blending of traditional beadwork with other forms of art-making.

What motivates you to create?

AW: The act of making helps my brain slow down and helps me concentrate on a single idea. I love the constant decision-making and problem-solving. I find it really exciting when works begin to reveal themselves to me. I also love the communal aspects of art-making. Sharing space and ideas is a process that I find really rewarding.

What does it mean to you to win an international sculpture award so early in your artistic career?

I’m really excited to win this award. It has been a really rewarding experience getting to show my work abroad alongside some incredible artists from around the world.

What can you tell us about your award-winning sculpture, my body is the river that shapes the ground before you: part 1? What ideas were you exploring with this piece?

AW: I created this work during a studio intensive last February at the Snelgrove Gallery called “Occupy” where we worked in the gallery space over the course of a week. I spent five days, beading for up to 12 hours a day to complete the work for the closing of the show.

The recent passing of my auntie Yvette inspired the work. In a way, it’s a memorial work for her, but in a larger sense it speaks to the impacts of Indigenous women on the landscape.

Post-colonization, the voices and stories of Indigenous women have been systemically erased or ignored, but I wanted to illustrate that their presence on this earth can still be felt—whether that’s through the bodies, minds and blood of those who came after or the physical change of the land.

I was visually inspired by the movement of river systems and the way that they meander over time, leaving impressions on the earth around them. If you are familiar with the physics of rivers, you can see both where they once were and where they are going. Beaded earrings have long been a symbol of Indigenous womanhood and by bringing this imagery together I wanted to show that the land never forgets that we were here.

What is the main thing you hope to learn or attain through the USask MFA in Studio Art Program?

AW: My approach for this program was to explore as much as possible in my first year, and then refine those ideas in my second year. I am so grateful for the resources and guidance of the faculty. Their mentorship has really helped me ground my practice. Additionally, the critique of my cohort has been incredibly beneficial in refining my technical skillset and expanding my worldview.

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