q̓ʷɑti̓cɑ: k̓ʷam̓k̓ʷəm̓ tə šxʷhəliʔ Phyllis Atkins: Divine Connection

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This fall, Surrey Art Gallery launches the solo exhibition q̓ʷɑti̓cɑ: k̓ʷam̓k̓ʷəm̓ tə šxʷhəliʔ / Phyllis Atkins: Divine Connection from September 18 to December 11, 2021. q̓ʷɑti̓cɑ / Phyllis Atkins makes paintings and sculptures that draw from both Coast Salish tradition and her own personal journey to connect with the world around her. In her first solo exhibition at the Gallery, she presents three new life-and spirit-affirming artworks. 

q̓ʷɑti̓cɑ / Phyllis Atkins next to her public artwork A Bear’s Feast (sƛ̓ənəqs kʷə speʔəθ) in civic collection of City of Maple Ridge. Photo by Oliver Rathonyi-Reusz.
q̓ʷɑti̓cɑ / Phyllis Atkins next to her public artwork A Bear’s Feast (sƛ̓ənəqs kʷə speʔəθ) in civic collection of City of Maple Ridge. Photo by Oliver Rathonyi-Reusz.

q̓ʷɑti̓cɑ: k̓ʷam̓k̓ʷəm̓ tə šxʷhəliʔ Phyllis Atkins: Divine Connection

  • When: September 18 to December 11, 2021
    • Drop-in launch on September 18, 2021 from 7:00pm to 9:00pm at Surrey Art Gallery. Formal remarks begin at 7:30pm.
  • Where: Surrey Art Gallery (13750 88 Ave, Surrey)
  • Admission: Free

The exhibition foregrounds the importance of circular form and symbolism: while each work alludes to icons such as the moon or weaving technologies, the repeating circular shapes also evoke a handheld drum and its critical importance to Coast Salish culture and revitalization.

“I am on my true life path, honouring my gifts from the Creator and sharing them with others,” says Atkins. “Divine Connection is a reflection of my life, my healing journey.”

The focal point of the exhibition is ƛ̓a tə qələms tə c̓ic̓əɬ səy̓em̓ / The Creator’s Eye, a multimedia sculpture that combines a circular painted panel elevated two metres off the ground with long strands of woven cedar tumbling from its bottom edge. This artwork is partly based on a Coast Salish spindle whorl design. A spindle whorl is a traditional tool, using a disc and shaft, for spinning wool. The eye in the middle of Atkins’s artwork is enclosed between two faces.

When Atkins began creating this piece, she was thinking about the Yin and Yang concept in ancient Chinese philosophy of opposing forces that complement each other, such as good and evil, light and darkness, and male and female. On the other side of the painting, a moving video projection of the same motif plays. This circular video projection turns like a spindle whorl to reflect the sequence of binary themes. The sound of drums and song wrap the visitor in an immersive space.

The circularity of ƛ̓a tə qələms tə c̓ic̓əɬ səy̓em̓ / The Creator’s Eye is mirrored in adjacent artworks such as sil̕ə θə ɬqelc̓ / Grandmother Moon, a lunar portrait encircled by phases of the moon in silver leaf.

“Revitalization of Coast Salish culture has not just been happening at the mouth of the stó:lō (Fraser River), but also amongst communities and artists further up the river delta,” curator Jordan Strom says. “Qʷɑti̓cɑ / Phyllis Atkins is one of those artists contributing to new understandings of her q̓ʷɑ:n̓ƛ̓ən̓ / Kwantlen culture through her distinct personal vision and interdisciplinary practice.”

At the drop-in launch, visitors are also invited to experience Sandeep Johal: What If, multimedia exhibit of paintings, drawings, textiles, and animation that amplifies stories of resilient South Asian women. Follow the Surrey Art Gallery on Facebook for information about this exhibition and more.

About the Artist

q̓ʷɑti̓cɑ / Phyllis Atkins is a member of the q̓ʷɑ:n̓ƛ̓ən̓ / Kwantlen First Nation who works in painting, carving, jewellery-making, and weaving. Her hereditary name (pronounced K-why-deet-za) means “I wear the clouds like a blanket.” Her late father Joe Gabriel was the hereditary chief of the Kwantlen. Her mother’s side is from the Shakan Band (Thompson River People). Atkins first began studying oil painting with Barbara Bolt in 1996 and in 2001, learned to hand-carve silver jewellery with master Haisla carver Derek Wilson. She is influenced by the deep connection to her ancestors, community, and family, but most of all, she is inspired by her husband Drew Atkins. Together, they opened K’wy’iy’e Spring Salmon Studio in Fort Langley in 2005. q̓ʷɑti̓cɑ / Atkins has a number of public artworks in Surrey, including We Are All Connected to this Land on Bear Creek Bridge; Paddling through the Waves of Change at City Hall; Courage, Strength, and Family at BC Cancer Agency; Returning to the River in Bridgeview flats; and The Rivers that Connect Us at Museum of Surrey, the latter two in collaboration with her husband.

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