Allen Sapp, The Pow-wow, 1987

Allen Sapp, The Pow-wow, 1987

For over 50 years, the body of work produced by Allen Sapp has explored and celebrated the life, culture and daily activities of the Northern Plains Cree community. Avoiding pretense, stereotypes or staged events, he pulls images from the past and connects them with the present. His images recall community, family, particular moments in time — they are autobiographical memories.

His work, though indebted to European painting traditions and techniques, does not offer a Western take on texture, light and surface. Similarly his portraits are not historical, anthropological or scientific investigations of First Nations cultures, values or beliefs, but a representation of a culture from within. Sapp offers portraits of Aboriginal life and people by an Aboriginal artist.

Kiskayetum (“he knows/perceives it”), the name given to Sapp by his grandmother, was also the title of the retrospective exhibition curated by Bob Boyer at the MacKenzie Art Gallery in 1994. This was the first critical evaluation of Allen Sapp’s body of work within a public gallery. Painting during a time when government policy advocated total assimilation as a means of eliminating the Cree as a distinct people, his work is not unknowing. His view of an “Indian” world is the documentation of the cultural persistence of the Northern Plains Cree in Saskatchewan.

Image: Allen Sapp, The Pow-wow, 1987 acrylic on canvas