Brushes with Climate Change

Rockies Repeat project explores the intersection between conservation, art, history, and culture.

Written by Brooke Campbell

Posted March 9, 2021

Almost one hundred years ago, Banff, Alberta, painter Catharine Robb Whyte ventured into the surrounding mountains with brushes and paint to capture the magnificent landscape. Now an all-women collective of Indigenous and non-Indigenous artists is retracing her steps and bearing witness to the effects of climate change in the Canadian Rockies.

The work is part of the Rockies Repeat project, which is working to produce a documentary, an exhibition, and a digital storytelling capsule.

By revisiting iconic sites in the Rocky Mountains and repainting Whyte’s original paintings, the artists hope to demonstrate the scale of the climate crisis and to inspire the next generation of stewards of these lands.

“If we can speak as artists to people through their hearts, then hopefully we can impact their thoughts and their motivations,” said Kayla Eykelboom, one of the emerging artists associated with the project.

Displaying the original works of Whyte alongside the paintings created by the Rockies Repeat artist team will not only illustrate the profound physical changes to these lands but also speak to the cultural changes over the past century.

Early landscape paintings typically depicted the mountains as part of a pristine and untouched wilderness — one that excluded Indigenous peoples and their relations with the land.

The Rockies Repeat project aims to reframe this colonial representation and to build a new cultural narrative associated with the mountains.

The artists are taking an active role in reconciliation by honouring all of the cultures that are traditionally associated with the land and by aiming to inspire future creators.

“I want to see the next generation of Stoney youth painting here,” said artist Cheyenne Ozînjâ θîhâ from the Stoney Nakoda Nation in the foothills west of Calgary near Morley, Alberta.

Eykelboom added: “This project serves as a reminder of the work that needs to be done on a daily basis to understand this land, know its history, and to work to protect its future.”

The Rockies Repeat film and exhibit will be shown as part of Alberta’s 2022 Exposure Photography Festival.

This article originally appeared in the April-May 2021 issue of Canada’s History.

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