Emma Hassencahl-Perley // Featured Artist

I first notice Emma when my friend Alex photographed her for a series, and I went creeping. Because I have no chill. When I saw what a multidisciplinary artist she was, I awkwardly reached out – as I do – and asked if I could have her on the blog. Then I dropped the ball for ten months, as I do. Thankfully, Emma gets me, and this piece came together fairly effortlessly after that.

Welcome to the first 2019 Featured Artist – meet Emma…

–  tenille k campbell

Who inspires you?

The matriarchs. My mom and memes (grandmothers). My great-meme.

They taught me to be strong and independent. They encouraged me to learn more about my history. They have cheered me on and supported me through what I wanted out of school and out of life.

I remember my mom and her mom trying to teach me how to draw a house. My mom let me draw all over my bedroom walls as a kid. My room was covered wall to wall in crayon drawings and so my art was neutered from a young age.

I never got to meet my great meme. I know her as being a strong leader in my community, Neqotkuk (TFN). She began working for the Union of New Brunswick Indians in the 60’s. Through her research, she became knowledgeable in our history and traditions and she worked hard to bring our songs, ceremonies, and dances back to our community after several regulations through the church and laws in Canada made them illegal.

What has been your biggest moment as an artist, so far? 

I don’t know if I can pick my biggest moment as an artist. I have had great moments with big and small accomplishments. Some of my greatest moments have included:

  • Finishing my degree at Mount A with the department award in Fine Arts. I had an overall great experience there. My professors were amazing and I received a lot of good training.
  • Participating in Winnipeg’s Nuit Blanche / Maplewish Mosaic with TakingitGlobal, then travelling to Vancouver for the Wish150 Exhibition.
  • Christi Belcourt sharing my work, “White Flag” on her Facebook page. Lol, I was so excited.
  • Becoming a board member for Mawi’Art: Wabanaki Artist Collective. It is the first collective of it’s kind in the Atlantic region.
  • Every single artist talk I am asked to do. It means so much to me to be able to share my work with others.
  • Painting my cabin murals at Camp Wolastoq and completing two new murals in my community, one at Tobique Youth Centre and the other at Tobique Headstart Program.
  • Moving away from things that did not feed my creativity and into curation and writing.
“White Flag”, Indian Act shreds on Canadian Flag. 2015

Favourite Quote?

One quote I have always liked is “Art will survive this. Artists won’t.

It sounds a tad emo, but it reminds me that the work I make might just have a life after mine, that is what I intend for it to do.

“And if I do go missing and my body is found, please tell my mom you are sorry. Tell her I ask to be buried in my red dress, for I will have become just another native statistic.” -Brianna Jonnie, Age 14

 Your art installation made the rounds a few years ago in 2016 when it was showcased. What does this passage mean to you today? 

This work was inspired by Brianna Jonnie, who was fourteen years old when she wrote a letter to the Winnipeg Chief of Police, giving him instructions on what to do if her body is ever found. It was also a plea to police, government officials, and the media to give MMIW cases as much weight as Non-indigenous missing and murdered cases.

Brianna’s words are just as true and heartbreaking today as the day I read them. It should not have surprised me that these types of concerns came from someone much younger than me. I carry the same fears when I’m living alone. I am aware of the statistics … and it is as though Indigenous women stop being real people through these numbers and stereotypes. Although I cannot assume that every MMIW case is handled with racism, neglect, or victim blaming, it has happened and continues to happen … and the way Indigenous Peoples are portrayed in the media is not helping.

Brianna wrote such a strong piece and her words resonated with many, including myself, and I wanted to call attention to both her concerns as a young Indigenous woman and MMIW through this work.

This passage really stuck out to me. Brianna’s words in the installation are held together by rows of thin red thread.

Brianna Jonnie. Ink on paper. Red thread. 2016. Solo Show: A Red Girls’ Rage.

You have various forms of expression – beadwork, painting, design, dance. What has been your favourite to work in and why?

The best part of being a multidisciplinary artist is that I get to change up my methods of making all the time. My work is mainly 2D and visual, although in recent years I began working in textiles, beading, instillation and performance. I moved away from printmaking, it was one of my specialities in school. I continue to go back to painting. I bead every chance I get – I love being able to produce work quickly and it is also so relaxing.

Dance and textiles have been, by far, the most rewarding. In my final year at Mount Allison University, I taught myself to sew by watching “Making Regalia” YouTube videos. For my grad project, I made my first set of regalia: dress, beadwork, shawl. I had always danced at our powwow, but I had never owned my own regalia. I wanted a dress that could dance both fancy shawl and jingle and so I made a detachable jingle skirt that goes over my dress. I choreographed a dance that showcased both dances. I preformed my regalia in front of my classmates and professors for my final critique.

Amalhocossawiye (She colors fancily). 2017. Tintypes. Collaboration with Robert McDermott.

What has been your favourite project to date and why?

One of my favorite projects would have be my cabin murals at Camp Wolastoq. It took me 3 summers to complete 13 murals so far. The campground is not yet complete, but I have loved spending my summers there. The cabins are inspired by animals in our area and the 7 sacred teachings, as these teachings are universal and important. Each cabin is painted a different color, with a different animal, embellished with traditional double curve motifs.

Camp Wolastoq
Camp Wolastoq. Muniac, NB. (CBC Article)

It is my dream that the camp will become a language revival camp and that the colors and animals on the cabins will be translated and used as teaching tools. It weighs on me that our language is in jeopardy and that our nation has less than 100 fluent speakers left. It is important to acknowledge that, in the grand scheme of things, our languages are not dying. They continue to be killed off through lack of funding and language resources.

What do you wish people knew about East Coast Indigenous artists?

I want people to know that East Coast Indigenous artists are waking up – our visual and cultural identities are becoming stronger than ever.

There are so many amazing artists on this side of the country and we have a long visual history here. Our people make some of the most beautiful artworks – birch etching, ash baskets, quillwork, beadwork, as well as “contemporary” art and other art practices.

Any upcoming projects for 2019 you can share with us? 

I am currently working on a project, alongside two other young women artists, as an emerging curator with the New Brunswick Art Bank and the Beaverbrook Art Gallery in Fredericton. Together we are curating an exhibition to celebrate the 50thAnniversary of the New Brunswick Art Bank, one of the oldest art banks’ in Canada. We are also writing a short publication to coincide with the show. ‘Everything’s Gonna Be Fine” opens in February.

I will curate the exhibition that coincides with Petapan: Indigenous Art Symposium this coming June, 2019.

I recently received a grant from the Equinox program at ArtsNB to make new work and I will be working on a painting inspired by our creation story and the rebirth of our nation.

Words of advice for upcoming artists?

Just to go for it. Apply for every opportunity, even if you feel that you don’t have a chance – you seriously never know where it could take you. When you know that your art is what you want to do, and it drives you, you should trust that feeling.

Realistically speaking, it can be hard, depending on where you are, to work as a full-time artist. Most artists I know have other jobs. The money is not always consistent. On one hand, you don’t do it for the money, but on the other hand, you don’t want to be taken advantage of. Art = work… and work is work is work.

Native women are sparks
India in on paper. 2017.

Native women are sparks
They ignite action
Their love spreads like fire
Is it the women that will lead us out of this darkness.

Emma Hassencahl-Perley is Wolastoqiyik (people of the beautiful, bountiful river), commonly known as Maliseet. Originally from Tobique First Nation, NB, she currently lives and works in Fredericton, NB, as an emerging curator at the Beaverbrook Art Gallery. She holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts from Mount Allison University (’17). Emma’s artwork explores themes of legislative identity; the truth about our shared history between Indigenous peoples and the Settler state and society of Canada; and her own identity as a Wolastoqiyik woman. Her art practice is rooted in painting and printmaking, however, in recent years it has shifted towards installation, beadwork, textiles and performance on top of her usual creation methods.

Keep in touch and find Emma at TwitterInstagram and Facebook.

Main Image: A sister project to the “White Flag” piece, this work is called “Atolimiye” (She Keeps Praying). Indian Act shreds on Jingle Dress. Photo by Logan Perley


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