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This article was published 17/2/2012 (1952 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
In Slavic folklore, Baba Yaga is a creepy old witch who eats children. When she's not at home, her house walks around on chicken legs.
Artist Chris Reid, born Christina Saruk into a family of Ukrainian heritage, heard tales of the sinister hag while growing up in the heavily Ukrainian town of Lamont, Alta., east of Edmonton.
"If you aren't good, Baba Yaga is going to get you!" Reid recalls the grown-ups warning.
The idea of a house with the capacity to come alive and run away -- or perhaps go on a rampage -- has always stayed with Reid, 51.
But concerns about secure housing have been especially prominent in her artwork since 2006, when she took a full-time job as a housing resource worker for the Brandon Regional Health Authority. (The married mother of two moved to Brandon from Edmonton as a curator 12 years ago, but reinvented herself to pay the bills, she says.)
Day in and day out, the holder of a master's degree in fine arts tries to find stable shelter for low-income, homeless and troubled people. It's draining, often depressing work. It helps to explain why there are many houses with grotesque chicken legs in Reid's current solo exhibition, titled I like to believe I am telling the truth.
"I'm trying to say something about how tenuous our homes are (emotionally and literally)," she says. "You can't assume that home is going to be there."
Reid, who has been showing her work for more than 25 years, says art is an outlet for stress and anxiety. If reflects her day-to-day worries and helps her cope.
"I'm not good at sitting still," says the self-described feminist, who incorporates messy crochet work into the show. "Especially when you've had a hard day, banging your head against the wall with all kinds of issues that you can't do anything about, it's nice to feel like you can actually make something.
"The underlying themes are dark, but I guess I'm hopeful."
Reid's show, on view until April 14, is the first joint exhibition between the University of Winnipeg's Gallery 1C03 and the Oseredok Ukrainian Cultural and Educational Centre in the East Exchange. The works, dating from 2007-12, are divided between the two sites.
I like to believe I am telling the truth will be shown at Brandon's Art Gallery of Southwestern Manitoba next January.
The U of W gallery is showing seven of Reid's large-scale drawings in hard pastel or chalk pastel and one mixed-media installation. The Oseredok gallery has eight large drawings, two installations and about 45 pysanky. Reid learned to make the Ukrainian Easter eggs about four years ago and has turned out more than 150 of them.
Most are inscribed with the same quirky, often nightmarish personal symbols that recur in her vibrantly coloured drawings: stuffed sock bunnies with menacing red-lipped, carnal mouths; a cat/human figure who represents Reid's husband; an expressionless female doll who represents Reid; spiderwebs, bare trees, smoke-belching industrial buildings, domed Ukrainian churches (some with chicken legs) and screaming slices of bread.
Yes, shrieking bread -- or maybe it's toast. Reid says she has been drawing the prairie-produced staple as a fierce, open-mouthed creature for years.
It recurs in her current show, even appearing as a marauding monster starch of Godzilla proportions, lurking over a city. The slices have Baba Yaga-style chicken legs and wings. As in folk tales, they tap into a primal fear: could our food run away from us, or turn on us?
The slices in Screaming Bread Flees Grain Elevator might be an attack squad, like the winged monkeys in The Wizard of Oz. Reid prefers to leave interpretation to the viewer, but does mention growing public concern about food security. One viewer thought the drawing was a comment on the dismantling of the Canadian Wheat Board.
Critics have noted that Reid's work is playful and inviting at first glance, and cynical, satirical and disturbing underneath. She says that's deliberate. "I want people to be drawn in, and then find out it's not that cute."
But a whimsical installation included at Oseredok of more than 25 stuffed sock creatures is what it seems, she says: a community of one-of-a-kind animals and humans having a party. Many are misshapen oddballs, but all seem to have a sense of belonging.
A free panel discussion about Reid's show will be held March 22 at 7 p.m. at U of W's Eckhardt-Gramatté Hall. The panelists and their relevant research interests are professors Pauline Greenhill (fairy-tale films), Svitlana Kukharenko (animal magic) and Mavis Reimer (concepts of home in children's literature).
Chris Reid: I like to believe I am telling the truth
U of W's Gallery 1C03 & Oseredok,
To April 14