For one Westman artist, having her work featured at Neepawa’s ArtsForward gallery is a chance to express herself and bring attention to issues facing Canada’s Indigenous peoples ahead of the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation.
Melissa Parayeski, who is originally from Austin, 80 kilometres east of Brandon, has been dabbling in the art world since she was around eight or nine years old, when she would watch family members draw and sketch.
“I thought that was so amazing. It was inspiring,” Parayeski said.
Parayeski’s art is being featured in a gallery for the first time at ArtsForward in Neepawa, where she now resides. Her exhibit is called “Layers Under the Surface” and includes themes of self-expression, peace and healing.
Parayeski, whose exhibit opened on Sept. 6, said putting her work on display is a way for her to reach people through her art.
“I think it’s very important for me to express myself and my feelings and things I find extremely important … as a whole, for my people, my family.”
Many of her art pieces are inspired by her family, her own personal growth and her ancestors. Reconciliation, she added, is also an important theme in her work.
“I’m doing pieces based on that, too. Basically, it’s just one big healing journey.”
A self-portrait featured in the exhibit represents Parayeski’s own journey of processing the pain of learning about missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls. She said it also represents her hope that healing will continue.
“That’s my way of expressing how I feel about it; to show how important these subjects really are and how hurtful it is for our communities and for missing and murdered women’s families to go through. So many questions go unanswered.”
It’s a piece that, at first, Parayeski was hesitant to start.
“That piece made me nervous … it’s hard to explain,” Parayeski said. “But it’s important for me. Why can’t I show myself in this way? Why can’t I be vulnerable and show that this is important to me? It affects me, it affects every Indigenous woman and non-Indigenous woman.
“It’s always been a subject for our people, and … it inspired me to do my part and show my support.”
Parayeski hopes that her work will draw attention to an important issue.
“Maybe [it will] spark some questions, get them wanting to look for more information, for more truth to provide some healing, some beauty, some knowledge,” she said.
“The more light being shed on it, the better, so there will be more investigations, so truth and help can be available to women and families that have been affected by it. Knowledge is power, and if I can be a small part of bringing awareness through my art, then I will do it.”
Moving forward, Parayeski said she wants to focus on growing as an artist and showing off her art in more venues.
“I want to continue on and share [my art], get it out there more, so more people can see it. It makes me happy, being able to share my experiences with people, and I guess it provides, hopefully, some healing, some knowledge, whenever possible.”
Yvonne Sisley, administrator and director of programming at ArtsForward, said Parayeski needs to be celebrated for her art.
“It’s just amazing work,” she said. “It’s such an emotional exhibit.”
Before the exhibit opened, two pieces of Parayeski’s art were on display at ArtsForward — a portrait of the late English music icon David Bowie and one of Vincent van Gogh. Sisley said she thinks people will be surprised to see Parayeski’s other work.
“This is truly Indigenous art.”
Miranda Leybourne, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Brandon Sun