Artist captures his grief for exhibit after the death of his brother

Tuesday, June 11th, 2024 4:00pm


Image Caption

There are only five stages I've met that I don't like. Photograph by Jake Kimble.
By Crystal St.Pierre
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

The Art Gallery of St. Albert in Alberta has opened the vault for Good Grief, a very personal exhibition by Jake Kimble.

The Chipewyan (Dëne Sųłıné) artist uses photography and self-portraiture to express his true thoughts and feelings and as an outlet for self-care and self-reflection.

This current show encompasses the feelings and stages of grief that Kimble experienced during 2023.

“I was awarded this show on May 15 last year and, unfortunately, it happened to be the same day that I lost my brother in a car accident,” Kimble said. At the time he had a completely different exhibit to bring to the gallery.

“I was talking with my brother the morning that I found out that I had gotten the show.”

The two made plans for his older brother to travel down from the Northwest Territories and finally be able to attend one of Kimble’s shows.

But all that changed.

“Tragically later that day I found out that he was in a car accident and he passed away,” Kimble said.

“It has been devastating. Losing a loved one is never an easy thing to go through… Losing a brother in my case has been just devastating.”

With the excruciating pain Kimble was thrown into, he decided to change the focus of the show. He challenged himself to unveil his pain through self-portraits.

“What I wanted to do with this show, in particular, was not necessarily to document how I’ve gone through grief, because I didn’t want it to be a linear aspect, you know, but I wanted it to be about how I’ve dealt with certain aspects of grief,” he told Windspeaker.

“Some days you’re really angry. Some days you’re in denial,” Kimble said. “You know, it ebbs and flows and it’s just it’s so arduous. I remember feeling that, especially in the beginning, and it still comes every now and then.”

The Good Grief series includes five self-portraits that are paired with three other photographs that had been taken in the Northwest Territories.

Kimble prefaced his statement about his project by saying his show deals with mature content and adult themes with the mention of suicide.

“But that being said, you know, I am in a good mental space. I want other people to be as well, so, whatever help that they need I hope they get it.”

The five photos in Good Grief show Kimble chained to blocks of ice that resemble cement blocks.

“For me, one of the most intense feelings was just like wanting to die as well, because such a large part of my life was just taken from me. I remember having the feeling of wanting to die, but not actually wanting to die, but just that feeling of wanting to just because it’s so painful,” he said.

“I personally would never, but it’s just such an intense feeling… I was ruminating in that, and I was thinking about how to deal with this intense pain and, particularly, what I really wanted to do was buy a bunch of cement blocks and … throw myself in the lake.”

However, he didn’t actually want to die, so he found a way to explore that emotion through photography.

“I used the camera as the auto-ethnographic tool to really understand my feelings, how to process my place in the world,” he explained.

“For me it really was just kind of addressing the intensity of feeling that I was going through.”

As an Indigenous person, Kimble said, he was taught that following intense times you need to call your spirit back.

“Whether it’s drinking, whether it’s partying, whether it’s death of a loved one, you know, it’s important to keep your spirit around you at all times because it does wander,” he said.

In an effort to call his spirit back he decided to travel to the Northwest Territories to his family home, which had recently been surrounded by wildfires. Much of the area was devastated, including his brother’s house.

Once the Good Grief series was there, he ventured into the area where his brother’s home, once his grandmother’s, had stood.

“I just decided to, you know, do some additional self-portraits. And so, the first one, I'm burning, I'm burning one bookend, because I used to call him my bookend. And then the other, I'm holding a Caribou skull,” said Kimble.

Photograph by Jake Kimble.

The combo series will be on display at the Art Gallery of St. Albert until July 20, which curator Emily Baker said is an experience in itself.

The Art Gallery of St. Albert used to be a bank and still houses the vault on the main floor.

Leading into the vault is Kimble’s three photos that were taken outside at his brother’s. Inside the vault is the five Good Grief photos.

“If you go into the vault space, they draped it all in black fabric, so it feels like you are kind of entering this very infinite small other space,” said Baker. “We really wanted the space to feel like you’ve been dropped into somewhere else. It sort of reflects that space of grieving. It’s like you get dropped into grief really quickly, as if something happens really suddenly and then you’re in this very in-between space emotionally for a long time.”

Baker said the series “is really beautiful and tender and complicated. Just how grief is.” She commended Kimble on his ability to capture his own grief.

“It’s been a really wonderful working relationship to see this show grow from what was actually proposed to what is here now,” she added.

Local Journalism Initiative Reporters are supported by a financial contribution made by the Government of Canada.