I am Haudenosaunee Onyota’a:ka (Oneida Nation of the Thames). My mom and grandma are both have status and are registered with Oneida Nation of the Thames. However, it wasn’t always that way as my maternal grandma lost her status when she and her parents ‘voluntarily’ enfranchised with the government in 1944. They lost their status and received land and money in return. My mom was scooped in the 60’s when she was around 4 and adopted into a non-Indigenous home. My maternal grandpa passed on when my mother was young, so I am still learning about him. As a result, I am not recognized by the government as Indigenous.
My paternal grandfather is French-Canadian, and my paternal grandmother identified as French-Canadian, but she is a Larocque so there are unanswered questions about possible Mi’kmaq ancestry.
I know where I come from, but I am still dissecting my identity and learning more each day as I reconnect with family and community. A lot of people believe that knowing where you come from is part of your identity. This can be challenging, especially when your family has been removed and disconnected from their identity for multiple generations.
1. How would you describe your art in all its various forms, as you work with charcoal, mixed media, video and photography?
Currently I work in mixed media layering different materials (acrylic paint, collage, photo transfers, and beadwork). In the past, I focused on photography, video, drawing, and silkscreen printing. I am always exploring the same themes in all of my work regardless of the medium: connection/disconnection, inside/outside, self/other, identity, storytelling, intergenerational trauma, and healing.
If I am talking specifically about the floral portraits, I always start off with a laser printed photograph of someone and then cut it out with a precision knife. I apply gel medium to the surface I am working on, usually wood, canvas or watercolour paper. I apply the image face down and rub the back of the image smooth to release the air bubbles. I let it dry over night and then apply water to the back of the image with a sponge and rub the pulp off with my hands (this is my favourite part). I save the pulp because I have plans to try and make handmade paper when I have enough pulp saved up. Once the image is fully transferred, I paint the background with acrylic paint and then add my florals with paint markers. Then apply an acrylic varnish to seal and protect the painting. This work is extremely process oriented for me. The repetitive, hands on process reminds me to slow down, listen and respond. I often don’t have a plan, I trust the flow of each line and before I know it, my image is done. The silence and stillness are my teachers.
2. How does your Indigenous culture affect your work?
I believe that being Indigenous positively impacts my artistic voice because there is so much to connect to such as stories, teachings, and community. These things strengthen my artistic voice; they empower me to tell my own story.
There are so many stories to be shared and having art as a tool to express these stories as an Indigenous woman is a very powerful and important process. It serves as a platform to communicate my experiences in a way that other things cannot. The art is there to speak for itself, to tell my story and to tell our stories.
I just want people to connect to my art, it is my hope that my art and stories can be a source of strength for others. In the same sense, some people misunderstand my work. It is hard enough to be an artist but being an Indigenous artist adds another layer of complexity for my artistic voice. Sometimes the context isn’t always there for people so it can be frustrating at times when people don’t get it, but I guess it is a starting point for dialogue so it can become a powerful tool for change.
3. As I first came across your work through the “floralized” images, let’s chat about that for a minute. How did the mixing of photography and floral images/digital media come into being and what does this represent to you?
The very first image of florals I drew was on a wooden crate at my last part-time job, on one of my breaks. It was a quick sketch I created to cope with the stress and negativity of the workplace. I was working a job that was draining and no longer contributing to my life in a good way. It served it’s purpose in my life but I quickly realized that I needed to follow my heart and move forward. This is where my first floral design came to be. I starting bringing my sketchbook to work and sketching on my breaks more frequently and from there the creations came flowing. I sketch to feel better, I sketch to get the ‘stuff’ out. I was also really inspired by Haudenosaunee beadwork and my best friend Chief Lady Bird’s Ojibwe florals. This is what encouraged me to come up with my own floral designs. The first floral portrait I ever created was a self portrait titled “U•kwé Otsi’tsya’shúha (Woman and Flowers).” My florals keep evolving just as I do. The root/vein like lines extending from my eyes resemble connection, vulnerability, and strength. The red dots represent blood memory as they remind me of blood cells and how our ancestors, stories and memory are rooted in our blood. In addition, the exploration and expansion of the florals represent parts of my identity.
I always loved portraiture as well as layering different mediums so I decided to try transferring photos and surrounding my portraits with florals. So I created the piece titled “It does not require many words to speak the truth.”-Chief Joseph, Nez Perce. From here, I just kept creating. This process is very healing for me but I am finding that it is connecting to other’s healing journeys as well.
I have titled the series Akwelyá•ne | Kayá•tale’ (My Heart | Portraits). There are so many times people in our communities are misrepresented or seen in a negative light. It is my goal with this series is to create portraits of people in a good way. Chief Lady Bird said that I put “emphasis on individual truths, reclamation of our identity, sovereignty over our bodies and emotions, and the importance of love,” which is my intention. I also give people the option to share a story or quote that ultimately becomes the caption. Too often, other people decide what the caption should say. The piece titled “_________, Ojibwa wife of Oneida Chief John Danford 1907” is an example of this. A lot of photographs of Indigenous people, especially women, are captioned without the woman’s name. Who is she? Help identify her. It is my hope to help reclaim her identity by giving her portrait a caption/title that is more aligned and connected to who she is. This series is really a collaborative process because these portraits wouldn’t be possible without the people/photographers involved. I am grateful for all of the collaboration, interest and support.
The florals represent protection, growth, identity, voice, strength of women, truth, and love. The florals spread out from different areas of the body: mouth, heart, head, feet, hands, back etc. Where they grow from, usually means something different for everyone. These are all important themes that connect with the healing journey, personally and collectively.
4. Which portrait, to date, has been the one that you most connected with, and why?
“Honour and Protect the Sacred” is a diptych features Sarain Carson-Fox during her work entitled “The Missing” which features music by Cris Derksen. It is an excerpt of a larger work entitled; “The Red Road Block” which is dedicated to the thousands of murdered and missing Indigenous women and their families. The photo was taken by Brian Medina.
Flowers coming out of the mouth represents our voice, personally and collectively. Being able to project it out into the world, across the land and into the universe. Expressing ourselves and giving voice to ourselves and our ancestors.
Flowers coming from the hands represent protection, creation, power, never ending growth, and cyclicality; all important aspects of womanhood. Firstly, being sacred life carriers and nurturing our children and everyone around us. Secondly, to speak our truths as loudly as we can over the heads of anyone who tries to bring us down.
To me this image connects so strongly to my own healing journey. Seven years ago, I consistently drew images of mouths screaming, and I equate this to expression of emotion in connection to trauma. Along my own healing journey, there are so many times when I wanted to scream at the top of my lungs, loud enough to rattle the stars. Because maybe then, someone would hear me. The healing journey is not an easy one. It fucking hurts and most of the time it feels like your trudging up a steep muddy hill where you keep slipping and seem to be going nowhere. I call it a journey because that’s exactly what it is, there is no start and end, it’s a never ending circle. Sounds exhausting right? It is. But there is beauty in that because we are always discovering new ways to heal. Through all that I’ve been through, I survived. What about those who don’t? We have to help each other, support and encourage one another, be there, listen, protect, respect and share our own stories. There’s still so much I still need to do but I know I am on a good path because I am starting to feel better. I want to inspire others to walk alongside me on this healing journey.
5. Who are your role models?
So many people! I want to start by acknowledging my grandmother, Meme, she is so strong. She was piling firewood and was determined to take one last Harley ride during her last few days. She survived cancer not once but twice and survived domestic violence and alcoholism. Her strength and unconditional love is something that I carry close to my heart. Savvy Simon inspires me though her positivity, love, language, strength, and The Red Road. Rosary Spence inspires me through her facilitation style, strength, and determination. Chief Lady Bird is my best friend and makes me laugh until no tomorrow. She inspires me every day to be the best version of myself. Both Rosary and Chief Lady Bird were an inspiration for me choosing to focus on my career as an artist. My partner Mitch is so passionate about Protecting the Sacred; the land and the women in his life. I have never known anyone to have more respect and unconditional love. And last but not least, my Dad, Brian. He has been a single dad half my life and he does a damn good job at it! I admire his strength and love. I have so much love for all of these people.
6. Who is one artist you would love to work with and why?
I would love to work with Christi Belcourt, not only is she an inspiring and talented artist, she is doing a lot of great work with community, especially though the Onaman Collective she formed with other talented artists Isaac Murdoch and Erin Konsmo. I think my photo transfers mixed with both of our floral work could be a pretty cool collaboration.
7. Favorite quote:
“Follow your heart.” This is something my dad has told me my entire life and it’s exactly what I have always done. It hasn’t been easy but I feel like it has always been the best path for my journey.
8. What is one of your greatest achievements in your career, thus far?
In 2015 I joined a collective of other talented artists where we were known as the 7th Generation Image Makers. We did art workshops with youth and painted murals together. We also wrote a book titled Colour of Our Spirit where we share our individual journeys of self-discovery through our art practice. Since then, we have grown from there and we are now Spirit Arts Collective which consists of Nyle Johnston (Migizi), Nancy King (Chief Lady Bird), Lindsey Lickers, Jay Soule (Chippewar) and myself. Working alongside these amazing talented artists has encouraged and supported my journey in such a positive way. All I have ever wanted to do was create art and support other people in doing what they love to. I have had the dream of going to art therapy school since grade ten and I am currently completing my thesis/major project at the Toronto Art Therapy Institute which is titled “Our Stories, Our Truths: A Truth and Reconciliation Arts-Based Storytelling Project.” I did my placements at the Native Canadian Centre of Toronto, Anishnawbe Health Toronto, Youthdale Treatment Centre and Toronto District School Board.
9. What do you do to find inspiration? Where do you find inspiration?
I am strongly inspired by the healing journey. I have the passion for community engagement, and collaboration where stories are shared through the art making process. I am inspired by people’s personal strengths and stories. I find inspiration through listening to people and their stories, talking to people, going for walks and being with nature.
10: How do you want your work to be remembered?
I want my work to be remembered for making a difference. If what I create connects with one person, that is what is important to me. I want my creations to be remembered as connecting people, being uplifting, full of love, encouraging, inspirational, empowering and healing.
Bonus Question: What words of advice to you have for other aspiring artists?
When I officially decided I wanted to be an artist, I was 15-years-old. I was often laughed at for wanting to be an artist, some people even told me that I would never make it because art is not a successful career path. As a young artist I sometimes felt discouraged but questioned their definition of success. It seemed as though their definition of success had a dollar amount attached to it where I defined success way differently. I determine success by doing what I love and supporting other people do what they love to. I am really glad I didn’t listen to them and chose to follow my heart anyway because I am in the process of accomplishing my dreams. I don’t want to answer this question with advice because I believe that you are the expert in your own life but I can share my story and share with you a few words that helped me along my journey. Even today, I find these words are needed as a solid reminder of where I have come from and where I am going.
Follow your heart. Trust yourself and Creation. Do what you love doing and believe in yourself. Just keep going. If you have a vision for something, keep it within your sight. There might be someone or something that will try to tear you down telling you that you can’t do it, you aren’t good enough, it’s not worth it. This simply is not true. You are good enough, you can do anything you want. Don’t give up and rise above it.
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