The risks of building forts and jumping ropes… by Angela Marie Schenstead

For the past several years, I’ve been fortunate enough to organize, support, and witness artists of all kinds fulfill their visions within the walls of Glyde Hall (the building that houses the Walter Phillips Gallery and visual arts studios and facilities) and across campus at Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity. This includes coordinating details of the annual Indigenous Visual + Digital Arts Residency–a program that holds a special place in my heart. This program gathers Indigenous artists and cultural practitioners from all over the world who are connected by a love of creating, investigating, and sharing ideas pertinent to contemporary Indigenous concerns. The most recent iteration of this program ran from November 7-December 9, 2016, and ended only ten days ago. Though there are many moments worth mentioning that happened over the course of the five-week program, I would like to share the following two happenings that I found exceptionally affecting:

Sinuosity

A performance by Jeneen Frei Njootli and Tsēma Igharas

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

photos courtesy of the artists: Jeneen Frei Njootli and Tsēma Igharas

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People are crowding into the Lighting Studio in Glyde Hall to watch the performance. Jeneen and Tsēma stand back to back, dressed in all black except for their moccasin clad feet, and wrapped in one long braid made of their own hair, rope, and colourful flagging tape. A hush falls over the crowd as we eagerly await the performance to begin. Slowly, they turn to face one another, unwinding the rope that is their hair connecting them to each other, something like an umbilical cord. Silently they begin to make a second braid, each starting from their own scalps and bodies, to eventually join in the middle, making one more long braid of hair, rope, and colourful flagging tape.

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As I watch this action, I think of my sister and how we have braided each other’s hair many times, and how as children our mother washed and combed and braided our hair for many years, and how my father even combed and braided my hair when my mother was not around. Hair is sacred. Hair is an extension of our nervous system and an important part of our sensory perception. Hair is an important part of our identity. Hair has personal, spiritual, and cultural significance. The gesture of braiding ones hair suggests tender loving care and attention, cleanliness and wellness. The way we care for ourselves, reflects how we care for each other, and our environment.

But intertwined within their black braids is neon coloured flagging tape–the kind of you see marking forests for clear cutting–and rope made of fabricated materials. The contrast of colours and materials makes me think of Bruno Canadien’s Freedom Fighter paintings. His colourful assemblage art works assert Indigenous presence, resistance and sovereignty, and protest the encroachment of industry on First Nations lands. Jeneen and Tsēma’s performance share a similar tenet, while acknowledging the complex relationships that exist between industrial resource extraction enterprises and affected communities, First Nations and Canada.

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Jeneen and Tsēma demonstrate the tension that exists between opposing interests by swinging their long braids around and around, inviting the audience to play double dutch. No one wants to jump in for fear of landing on one of the braids and ripping out their hair. Eventually, the game’s risk is reduced to only one jump rope. After watching a few brave participants jump in and out of the swinging hair rope, I summon my courage to jump in and out, somehow managing not to land on their hair. I feel awkward and heavy and nothing like a child. The use of their hair and materials for what seems to be an innocent game becomes distorted, the audience becomes implicated, and anxiety and fear are created.

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This performance questions our relationships to each other, to place, to our sense of self. It questions our relationships and responsibilities to the land and to our respective communities. What is an acceptable level of risk when allowing industrial development to happen on pristine lands–on Indigenous lands? What are the implications of our choices, our resistance, our compliance? What are the consequences of our choices? How do we listen? In what ways are we entangled and implicated into decisions outside of our control? How do we deceive each other, our selves? What do we truly know to be true? What does the future hold? Is it possible to restore and repair the damage already done? The performance ends by them cutting the braids with a knife, leaving the audience with conflicted emotions. There is no resolution.

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Listener Ship

Site-specific installation, found natural materials, wood debris

Lindsay Dobbin

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photo credit: Lindsay Dobbin

Lindsay Dobbin’s work is often site-specific and furtive. They collaborate with nature, creating with found materials, and playing with sound. Over the five-week residency, I heard murmurs about Lindsay’s “other studio” in the woods, but it wasn’t until the second last day of the program that they led a guided walk to the Listener Ship. A small group of us quietly walked with Lindsay through the snow covered forest, following their tracks from previous outings–the mark making revealing something like a map to our destination.

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photo credit: Lindsay Dobbin

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photo credit: Lindsay Dobbin

It was a blue bird day, the sun shining bright despite the frigid cold. After weaving through the trees for a while, we eventually arrived at the Listener Ship–a small hut made of gathered and arranged deadfall from the forest behind Glyde Hall. The structure sits upon a bluff that overlooks the Bow River–looking west, the Bourgeau mountain range can be seen upstream–looking south one sees Bow Falls tumbling directly below, while the Banff Springs Fairmont Hotel sits across the river reminding visitors of Banff’s colonial history. The view is breath taking–sublime. My breath is visible as it leaves my body. The forest is quiet, yet the roar of the falls is relentless.

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photo credit: Lindsay Dobbin

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photo credit: Lindsay Dobbin

Before entering the fort, Lindsay talked about their process of making with the materials “offered by the forest” and the quality of “embodied listening” as they determined the placement of each piece of wood–they talked about their return to childhood and their desire to connect more deeply with the land, and how the marks of their footsteps in the snow became a record of the process. They then invited us inside the fort where we huddled close, shoulder to shoulder, sitting on the ground, filling the ship with our puffy parkas, toques and scarves, rosy cheeks and smiles, breathing each other’s cloud breaths. For a moment, I felt like a child, recalling a sense of imagination, wonder, and play. Listener Ship is an ephemeral sanctuary for listening and communing with the land.

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photo credit: Lindsay Dobbin

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photo credit: Lindsay Dobbin

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These two happenings are thematically tied. Childhood experiences and perceptions contrast adult realities and responsibilities. Both happenings have a touch of nostalgia and bittersweetness. During Sinuosity I felt a mix of excitement remembering the joy of jump rope as a child, but also fear as I was aware of the consequences if I landed on their hair and the metaphor their performance conjured… and as I approached Listener Ship, an idyllic setting for a fortress for little (and big) people, I was still very aware of the colonial history of this place and the unresolved contested territories across these lands. Despite these conflicting internal experiences, I do believe it is important to nurture our innate wonderment of creation, and to cultivate a sense of gratitude towards that which is sacred. It is these qualities that help us to love and build healthy relationships–to care for where we come from and our families, the water and land–to pay attention, and tread mindfully as we move forward.


About the artists:

Lindsay Dobbin

http://www.lindsaydobbin.com/

Lindsay Dobbin is a multi/interdisciplinary Métis artist, musician, curator and educator who lives and works on the Bay of Fundy, Canada. Their ecocentric, place-responsive practice includes media art, performance, sculpture, installation, social practices and writing, and is invested in and influenced by Indigenous epistemologies and cultural practices, such as drumming. Beyond their solo creative practice, Dobbin is also an active artistic collaborator, and have worked on projects with musicians, sound artists, dancers, visual artists and filmmakers. Their work has been presented and reviewed nationally and internationally, and they have received both provincial and federal grants. In addition to their art practice, they are also a passionate educator–employing music, sound, play, improvisation and engagement with the environment as tools for self-awareness and building community.

Jeneen Frei Njootli

https://freejoots.wordpress.com/

Jeneen Frei Njootli is a Gwich’in artist and a co-creator of the ReMatriate collective. She has worked as a fashion designer, performance artist, workshop facilitator, crime prevention youth coordinator and has both lived and exhibited across Canada. Frei Njootli’s practice concerns itself with Indigeneity-in-politics, community engagement and productive disruptions. She is currently a grateful, uninvited guest on unceded Musqueam territory, pursuing a Master of Fine Arts Degree at the University of British Columbia.

Tsēma Igharas

http://www.esln.ca

Tsēma Igharas (formally Tamara Skubovius) is an interdisciplinary artist and member of the Tahltan First Nation. She studied Northwest Coast Formline Design at K’saan (2005/06), has a Bachelor of Fine Arts from Emily Carr University for Art + Design, Vancouver (2011), and Masters of Fine Art from Ontario College of Art + Design University (2016). Tsēma has shown in notable group shows, Interweavings (RAG 2014/15), Culture Shift, Contemporary Indigenous Art Biennale in Montreal and Luminato festival in Toronto (2016). She is currently showing her solo exhibition, Ore Body, in the vitrines at Gallery 44 for Imaginative Film Festival in Toronto. Tsēma graduated from the Interdisciplinary Master’s in Art, Media and Design program at OCADu showing her thesis work, LAND|MINE that connects materials to mine sites and bodies to the land.


About the writer:

Angela Marie Schenstead

Angela Marie Schenstead is an artist and writer, originally from Saskatchewan, and a member of One Arrow First Nation. She earned a Fine Art Diploma from Grant MacEwan University, Edmonton (2003), and a Bachelor of Fine Art in Ceramics from Alberta College of Art + Design, Calgary (2007). She has been a resident artist at Medalta, Medicine Hat (2007); Bruno Arts Bank, Bruno (2011); and Common Opulence, Demmitt (2015). Her art work can be found between the pages of kimiwan ‘zine (issues one and seven), and the online exhibition Attesting Resistance curated by Logan MacDonald (2013). Her work was included in the group exhibition Indigeneity, The Works Festival (Main Tent), Edmonton (2012); and she independently curated FIRE which featured works by Brenda Draney and Jewel Shaw, Stride Gallery, Calgary (2012). She has written texts for Contemporary Calgary, Art Gallery of Alberta, and Studio Magazine. She is currently based in Banff, where she has been a team member of Visual + Digital Arts at The Banff Centre since 2007. She is also an avid hiker, yoga practitioner and instructor, and is happiest walking in the bush or swimming in fresh water.

 

 

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MASKS

BDSM is an acronym for an overlapping abbreviation of Bondage and Discipline (BD), Dominance and Submission (DS), Sadism and Masochism (SM). As a 2spirit Metis/Saulteaux/Polish hard femme, it’s incredibly healing.

My name is Dayna Danger and I’m a visual artist. Prairie queer here, from Winnipeg, Manitoba. At present, I am living in the land of quality bagels and safe haven for Anglophones like myself, Montreal, Quebec. Graduate school in photography is what brought me here, but the community of folks that surround me, are what grounds me.

I’ve been precariously walking the line of empowerment and objectification through a queer white passing/mixed cis woman lens these days. The body and its representation have always been important to me. So has covering it in baby oil and having folks rock a rack of antlers, big or small. My series, Big’Uns, was all about reclaiming pornography, media, our gaze, our bodies and projecting it in a way that was challenging. For years I have been using lens based mediums to communicate my ideas visually.

It’s been months since I’ve talked about my work. Depression and unraveling the layers of trauma can really get you down. I call it my cocoon phase, except I seem to be revealing more open vulnerable wounds then getting anywhere close to a butterfly.

Last August 2015, I arrived in Vancouver with a past lover after rolling my car in a ditch filled with Sage. We carried on without a scratch. I’m quite proud of our resilience to seeing our respective families in different regions. On our only proper night in Vancouver before heading to Terrace, we hit up a punk show. I haven’t been to one of these in AGES. Like a good 14+ years. I remember feeling really uncomfortable, sticking out like a sore thumb, like they could tell I’ve been listening to other genres, and that teenager angst was not as present in my body. The positivity was dwindling.

The night was saved because this majestic babe shows up after back and forth texting, <3Jeneen<3. Something sparks inside of me. We gravitate to the mosh pit and cross hold hands like they did in that one scene in Titanic. Spinning  Spinning  Spinning! We let er’ rip! Smashing dudes in our way, like two sides of a battle axe, cutting down the dudes (who LOVED it), just like the patriarch. Jeneen Frei Njootli spoke to me about this imagery of the double-sided battle axe and I couldn’t shake it. It’s now tattooed on my body it resonated so much.

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This brings me to what I’m working on now. I’m currently in process, the ideas are there, but sometimes hard to articulate. I started beading my axe, and then my friend’s tattoos onto leather fetish masks I privately commissioned.

The beadwork is done by myself and in its first iteration, two other talented native women that I hired, Nicole Redstar and Tricia Livingston. Georgia Crane, Adrienne Huard and Kandace Price wore the masks we beaded, with 2 of them wearing masks with their very own beaded tattoos on the side. It’s ramping up again as I have four new masks, without eye holes this time, to bead.


These masks are my cocoon stage.

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To give some context on what I mean about BDSM being healing for myself, is a quote from powerhouse Lindsay Nixon, VISUAL CULTURES OF INDIGENOUS FUTURISMS, SÂKIHITO-MASKIHKIY ACÂHKOSIWIKAMIKOHK

“Indigenous peoples’ sexualities are frequently equated to histories of sexual violence, commodified and institutionalized by settlers seeking to dominate, discipline, and control Indigenous bodies. Danger’s use of the leather BDSM mask references the kink community as a space to explore complicated dynamics of sexuality, gender, and power in a consensual and feminist manner. Danger engages with her own medicine, beading, in order to mark kink as a space for healing colonial trauma. There is no shame in this action. Here the models’ gender expressions and sensual lives are integral to their resurgent identities as Indigenous peoples.”

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-Dayna Danger

The Place Where My Spirit Breathes

maskéko-sákahikanihk.

This summer, I took a four day intensive néhiyawéwin class. I’m learning my language, slowly. This class was the beginning of a commitment to push myself further towards this goal.

I live in Ottawa now, but I’m a prairie girl through and through. Going back home is a necessity in staying grounded and connected to what calms my soul. The language is in the land, in the vast prairie skies, the water. nipiy. my veins.

Don’t bother writing the words down. Just listen. You’ll remember.

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péyak. níso. nisto.

I’m in kindergarten, my favourite class is Cree class. We learn numbers, greetings, animals. Those words come flooding back in my memory.

I’m grateful to the educators that provided us with the opportunity to be exposed to our language and culture.

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Thirty years later, the class is full of eager students willing to learn néhiyawéwin. The instructors are passionate about passing on the language. It’s a beautiful and safe environment to learn and make mistakes.

Living thousands of kilometers away from my home, I have to make an effort to practice and hear the language, so I don’t forget again.

When discussing the struggles I’m having with this distance, one of my classmates told me that home is “the place where your spirit breathes”. He was right.

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Feature Artist: Tamika Knutson

My favourite thing about Tea & Bannock is sharing the work of artists I come across on my travels. On my recent trip to Dawson City, Yukon I met Tr’ondek Hwech’in artist Tamika Knutson, a summer student at the Klondike Institute of Art and Culture. She showed me some of her jewellery work inspired by the moss and lichen of the north. I asked her to share a bit about her practices with Tea & Bannock.

-jt arcand

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I’ve always had an interest in art but never thought it would be my career path. Now I can’t imagine doing it any other way. I’ve been studying fine arts for the past 4 years now. My first year of study was at Yukon School of Visual Arts in my hometown Dawson City, Yukon and the last three years I’ve been at NSCAD University in Halifax, Nova Scotia. I’ve had the chance to explore a variety of mediums in the past four years.

Initially, I struggled to find one that I wanted to focus on, until I enrolled in “Introduction to Jewellery” in the Fall of 2013. Something about transforming rough metal into precious art objects was exciting to me. I’ve been studying jewellery ever since that introduction class and am now going to graduate as a Jewellery major.

My most recent jewellery is inspired by the natural curiosities of moss and lichen. I feel this inspiration is significant to me because I grew up in Northern Canada where moss and lichen are abundant. I find moss and lichen interesting because it makes me imagine a miniature world unto itself; a whole ecosystem of fantastic colours and shapes. It can only be truly appreciated when you physically get close and acknowledge it. But, is so easily dismissed or overlooked.

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My jewellery creation have allowed me to relive and build on these inspirations that have been a part of my whole life. I feel privileged to make and share beautiful things for a living. I hope my work will encourage people to look a little closer and appreciate the small things.

-Tamika Knutson

9 ring bottom8 ring top7 earrings6 necklace5 brooch front and back4 brooch front and back3 brooch front and back2 necklace1 earrings

 

Follow Tamika on Instagram : QURKZ Jewellery

 

Epic Summer Road Trips: #AuntiesDoPortlandia2015

This summer, I travelled to the Yukon, Saskatchewan and Toronto throughout June and July and wrote a bit about it here on Tea & Bannock. Now that I’m home for a bit in Ottawa, I’ve been thinking about past Road Trips and how they are an essential part of my summer experience.

Exactly one year ago, I was on possibly one of the best road trips of life. It’s one of those once in a lifetime trips that I still wonder if it actually happened. Good thing there’s pictures to prove that it did!

Background: My cousin Leah and I were roommates when I lived in Saskatoon, and Portlandia became a big part of our lives. Like, it was always on. Constantly. We became obsessed and started memorizing every episode. We closely identified with the Feminist Bookstore characters, Toni and Candace. So much, that we started dressing up as Portlandia characters for Halloween. Don’t judge.

One night after indulging in some wine health juice, we dared each other to apply to be extras on the show. Nothing much came of it. Fast forward to a year later, I was living in Ottawa, and Leah got an email – she had been accepted as an extra on Portlandia!

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Leah’s actual email

We freaked out, I kept checking my email but never got one. We decided to contact them and see if I could go too. Once they gave us the go ahead, I booked a flight to Calgary where we met up to drive the rest of the way to Portland, a dream come true! We even got some local media coverage! We also ran a gofundme campaign which helped us get to Portland, thanks everyone!

So, we hit the road …

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Driving Dolores, photo credit: Leah Arcand

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When we got stopped at the border for having a banana in the car. Declare all fruit, kids!  Photo credit: Leah Arcand

We got to see some Portland landmarks and places they have filmed in the show,

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Keep Portland Weird! photo credit: Leah Arcand

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Weirdos

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Voodoo Doughnuts!

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This place!

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Where they shoot Women and Women First!

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The famous chalkboard

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Still from the show

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Inside the bookstore

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Exterior shot, photo credit: Leah Arcand

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City Hall, where many scenes were shot, photo credit: Leah Arcand

We waited patiently for our call time on Saturday Aug. 9, 2015. Everyone was so nice to us, we were known as the cousins from Canada who drove 13 hrs (+ 5 hr flight for me) to be on our favourite show!

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Here we are on set with Adam Rosko, the guy who made it all happen, the coordinator that cast us as extras! Thanks Adam! photo credit: Leah Arcand

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Taking selfies while waiting for our big moment! photo credit: Leah Arcand

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Cast and Crew! If you look closely you can see producer Lorne Michaels! photo credit: Leah Arcand

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We got to meet Carrie Brownstein and Fred Armisen! The highlight of the trip! photo credit: Leah Arcand

I wanted to write about this trip on Tea & Bannock to mark the 1 year anniversary, but also because I wanted to share a lighthearted story about dreams coming true, as cheesy as that sounds. Celebrating silly moments and celebrating friendships is sometimes all we have. I look back on this trip and it gives me life! So often media portrays negative stories about Indigenous people, the fact that this story was picked up by media makes us giggle, but we also see the importance of it. It is my hope that this story lifts others up too! Be yourself! Do what you love and accept who you are, even if it’s being Portlandia fan girls, no shame in that game!

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Writing thank you postcards in VooDoo Doughnuts! photo credit: Leah Arcand

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#deeplysilly #auntiesdoportlandia photo credit: Leah Arcand

 

-jt arcand

 

 

Melissa General: From Six Nay to The Six

I would like to introduce Melissa General, an artist whose work I had the honour to write about from the exhibition Mikwenim (Remember). The exhibition was curated as part of the Asinabka Indigenous Film & Media Arts Festival in Ottawa, Ontario last year and also featured the work of Jo SiMalaya Alcampo. Asinabka is coming up on its 5th year and runs from August 10-14, 2016. 

Melissa’s work is a gentle understanding, a familiar longing for home. Her series Keyahre: I Remember consists of photographs, video installation, and seven white child-size dresses embellished with Mohawk words. I felt a connection with the work even though there are 1000s of kilometers between our communities.

I was thrilled when she agreed to write about her experiences with photography and staying connected to Six Nations while living in the Six. Tea & Bannock, please welcome Melissa General.

-jt arcand


 

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Melissa General, Akhwá-tsire, 2013

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Melissa General, Kehyára’s, 2013

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Melissa General, Tekyatatnón-kwe, 2013

Many years ago I moved from Six Nations of the Grand River Territory to Toronto to study art at the Ontario College of Art and Design. As a shy and awkwardly quiet young Mohawk woman, moving to Toronto was a challenging transition for me. Growing up I visited Toronto frequently with family and friends but, until I moved my entire world was located at the corner of Fourth Line and Tuscarora Road. My best friend lived down the road from me on the other side of Fifth Line. My Uncle Dave lived one road over on Onondaga Road and my high school was a fifteen-minute drive away. It was a big move for me.

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Melissa General, from the series Nitewakénon, 2015

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Melissa General, from the series Nitewakénon, 2015

When I began my studies at OCAD I experimented in several areas, initially focusing on installation until I took my first photography course. I took PHOT-2B03 Introductory Photography: Black and White, and when it was over I cried because I knew I’d have to wait through the summer to have darkroom access again. Photography was a new medium with its own language that I was determined to learn how to speak. I made plenty of mistakes through the process and had my share of difficult critiques but, I worked hard to learn.

In the last two years of my studies at OCAD I was still quite shy and began to use myself as a subject in my work. I enjoyed the solitude of working on my own and quickly realized that much of my work was about learning and understanding who I was and about my Indigenous identity. I possessed a limited amount of knowledge about my culture and history so I began to learn about myself through my process and photography provided me with a voice when I was too timid to have one.

Now, years after graduating from OCAD and completing my MFA at York University, my practice has now evolved to include photography, video, audio and installation work. My Indigenous identity continues to be at the core of my practice and includes concepts involving land, memory and history with the majority of my work being produced on Six Nations Territory.

I am still based in Toronto, working and teaching at OCAD University with the Indigenous Visual Culture (INVC) program. As a young student at OCAD I hoped to return to the university to teach, so I’m very excited to be faculty for Indigenous Visual Culture. I feel fortunate and very proud to support the talented Indigenous artists who call the INVC Student Centre their on-campus home. I have shared my experiences with them as a young OCAD student navigating their way through university and I offer them my support in successfully completing their studies.

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Melissa General, The Place Where I Come From, 2015

Melissa General is Mohawk from Six Nations of the Grand River Territory. She is a graduate of the Ontario College of Art and Design and completed a Masters of Fine Arts degree at York University. Her work has been exhibited at The Robert McLaughlin Gallery, Harbourfront Centre, Art Gallery of Peterborough, Gallery 101, Gallery 44 Centre for Contemporary Photography and has been included in the 2016 Contemporary Native Art Biennial in Montreal.

Grain Elevators & The Midnight Sun

On June 30, I opened my solo exhibition Through That Which Is Scene at ODD Gallery in Dawson City. I left Ottawa on June 22 and had a stop-over in Whitehorse. It was my first time experiencing the “Land of the Midnight Sun” so close to the solstice and it was truly amazing! The next morning I arrived in Dawson with 4 suitcases containing my entire exhibition.

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Front Street – Dawson City taken June 24, 2016 11:00pm

I spent most of my days installing the exhibition with the help of the Klondike Institute of Arts and Culture (KIAC) Staff. We had a lot of fun playing with train sets. Tamika is a summer student at KIAC and an art student at NSCAD University and now experienced at building miniature grain elevators! She’s an amazing jewellery artist and a future feature on Tea & Bannock.

When I wasn’t busy with the installation, I was able to explore some trails around Dawson:

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Hike to Moosehide Slide

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Rainbow over the Yukon River

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View from the Dome on a rainy night

Travelling solo can be challenging and get a little lonely, but I met so many amazing people on my journey that it was difficult to leave. The beauty of the land and the generosity of the people is unlike anywhere I’ve ever been.

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My show is up until July 30th, so check it out if you find yourself in Dawson City at one of the many summer festivals like the Moosehide Gathering which takes place July 28-31 this year.

Many thanks to the KIAC Staff, Meg Walker, Tamika Knutson, my roommates Debbie and Bella, and everyone who came out to my talk and opening! And thanks to Canada Council for the Arts for the Travel Grant for Visual Artists.

-jt. arcand