Aretha Laverne bridges culture and art locally

Local artist Aretha Laverne shared her creative process and how she connects with her community via the Travelling Exhibition Program Northwest (TREX NW) last week.

Laverne’s artwork exhibit opened Thursday (Feb. 22) at the Art Gallery of Grande Prairie’s (AGGP) in recognition of Black History Month.

Her work is being displayed on the TREX wall outside of the AGGP.

“Laverne’s practice is centred around the creation and sharing of images for storytelling in an effort to contribute to the cultural fabric of the art world,” said Jessica Groome, AGGP executive director.

Laverne describes her work as abstract landscapes, but within the mixed media pieces lie stories of culture, community and the past.

“I had read an article at the time about how African American abolitionist Harriet Tubman made her way to Canada with her first group of freedom seekers during a snowstorm, so I thought that was such a cool fact, and I painted the mountainscape,” said Laverne.

Steadfast and Sure III is a “symbol of overcoming” she said, as the piece incorporates lines that represent the railroad tracks of the underground railroad and distressed textures represent the difficult journey taken by African Americans travelling to Canada.

She said the mountains symbolize what enslaved people had to overcome to come to Canada.

Other pieces of Laverne’s work include inspirations from her community locally in the Peace region and culturally.

Follow the White Rabbit is a piece she says is constantly changing, but it also represents her journey.

While nervous about her upcoming artist talk, she took a walk through Muskoseepi Park and spotted a rabbit. It reminded her of the similarities, such as saying yes to opportunities and riding the ups and downs of being an artist.

Laverne’s work incorporates many symbols like the Sankofa, a stylized heart-shaped bird, which means “don't hesitate to look back and learn from the past in order to bring it into the future and learn today.”

Flowers represent success and Anansi, a spider in Jamaican folklore, is considered the spirit of all knowledge of stories.

She said her work also gives insight into the history of black people and how Canada was a refuge for many.

Laverne’s art will be part of the upcoming TREX travelling exhibitions, with a collection called Are You My Mother. She says the exhibit will “illustrate my journey of identity in terms of my ethnic culture but as a mother and discovering my voice as an artist in the world.”

The exhibit will also become a children's book that is still in the works.

Laverne, who has a background in early childhood education, recalled her first daycare job.

“There was a little boy who was from the reserve who had never seen a black person up close; he looked up at me and peed his pants, and he was terrified because, for him, his exposure was the beloved Dr. Seuss books.”

Her book will be similar to Seuss’ book Are You My Mother? Which features a bird looking for its mother, but hers will be a black person looking to find their identity.

“In my book, Sankofa represents the bird, and I have a miniature Sankofa to represent the baby chick, but also she represents Mother Africa, and how people like myself of African diaspora are constantly looking for affirmation and who we are.”

Laverne said that all of her artwork ideas begin in a journal with a scattering of ideas, and when she finishes a piece, she then makes another journal entry to reflect on what she learned along the journey of creating the piece.

Jesse Boily, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Town & Country News