Path Breakers

from Caroline Blechert:

Some Path Breaking waves happened this weekend while collaborating on a photoshoot for my Creations for Continuity Neon Jewellery Series.

Through this beautiful collaboration we have all brought an artistic, contemporary lens to the idea of indigenous beauty and identity.

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The concept of Indigenous in these photos really shows how dynamic we are and how we see ourselves, because we are so much more than how we are romantically and traditionally depicted in mainstream.

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We are more than natives wrapped in blankets, or Inuit on the land in fur parkas. Many of us have adapted, much like our ancestors, to their own harsh environments.

Images above by Caroline Blechert

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 from Jaida Grey Eagle:

In collaborating on this series we wanted to play with the light; using light as a statement, using light as a form of pushing the narrative and using the light to break up the stagnation of how we as Indigenous people are viewed in the contemporary world.

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I was not interested in creating images that continue to put us into the stoic, romanticized, and past-tense portrayal. We went in with the thought to create an image that further pushes the narrative of Indigenous beauty.

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Coming together and collaborating together as indigenous women I wanted to create what I’m always looking for.

I’m always in search of images that capture contemporary Indigenous people as how I see us; adaptable, resilient, and thriving people.

I know that others must be searching as well.

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Images above by Jaida Grey Eagle

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Ink and Stories – Cora DeVos, Guest Blogger

I look back on the past 7 years of being in business and there has been many sessions that have stayed close to my heart and I’m sure they always will be a part of me. Photography has taken me on a journey and I have learned so much about myself, that I don’t think I would have come to realize if it weren’t for my craft.

I love taking photographs of women, it brings me such joy to have someone show up for their session and be so timid and afraid to be in front of the camera and through the session to watch her blossom into a super model and feel so beautiful and KNOW that she’s looking good.

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I want that feeling for every woman. I want every woman to look in the mirror and see the beauty that their loved ones see, forgetting about the awful words that we often tell ourselves and just letting your true beautiful self, shine through. We really do need to stop being so mean to ourselves and learn to love ourselves as freely as we give our love to our family and friends. Tomorrow isn’t guaranteed, make the most of today and get in front of the camera with your loved ones and for your loved ones.

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One of the most amazing opportunities that I’ve had as a photographer was to be part of The Inuit Tattoo Revitalization Project and be the main photographer for the upcoming “Reawakening Our Ancestors Line” book. This project was spear headed by my best friend, Hovak Johnston. I couldn’t be more proud of Hovak. The strength that this woman holds is amazing and I love that she has blossomed into this strong and determined Inuk woman who wasn’t afraid of being told “no” and was willing to push forward for something that she felt so compelled to do for our people.

Tattooing was a tradition that was almost lost in our culture due to missionaries forbidding it and residential schools, Inuit were no longer continuing this tradition.

The week that we spent in Kugluktuk, Nunavut was a constant wave of emotions. You could feel the excitement coming from the Inuit women that were receiving their traditional tattoos. At times we cried together, laughed together, and when the tattooing was done – it seemed like the lines were meant to be there.

Hovak and I wrapped up the weekend with her tattooing me with the poking method. I chose a design that to me represents my little family. I could not imagine a better way to finish up our time in Kugluktuk than receiving this very special gift, from a very special friend.

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Novak Johnston of The Inuit Tattoo Revitalization Project 

These were my thoughts after receiving my tattoo…

My family lived in Cambridge Bay, Nunavut. My mom is Inuit and my dad is white. Mom used to speak to us in Inuinnaqtun when I was young, until one day an elder asked her why she was teaching us the language, we were “only half.” From then on, Mom never taught us any more of the language.

The words of “only half” have always haunted me in so many ways.

You see, my skin color is dark enough that I’m judged by it when going into stores, or when people meet me. Many assume that I should fit into all the stereotypes that they’ve come to believe before I even open my mouth.

But being that I’m “only half” and I was mostly raised in the south, I’ve never been “Inuk enough” for the north. When I go back to Nunavut, I’m constantly reminded by family and friends that I’m “so kublunak” (white man). Whether it’s how I dress, the fact that I don’t know our language (as if it was by choice) or that I don’t like muqtuq (whale blubber).

It’s hard, because all my life my two “halves” never have seemed to fit into a whole. I’ve always been proud to say that I’m Inuk (hence my photography name) and I’m always excited to talk to people about the amazing parts our culture, when it comes down to it… we are a TOUGH people! Take a look at our games and the climate we’ve survived in, you’ve got to be tough!

Now with my tattoo, I feel like it brings me closer to my culture than I have ever been before. When I look down at my tattoo and see it there, I know that I belong and I am proud to say that I AM INUK.

My whole is not half-Inuk and half-white; my whole is this person that I’ve become – a strong and caring person, someone always there for my husband, children, family and friends.

I am whole.

 – Cora DeVos, Little Inuk Photography


Bio: Little Inuk Photography is owned and operated by Cora DeVos in Fort St John, BC. Little Inuk Photography opened for business seven years ago the in small town of Porcupine Plain, Saskatchewan. Cora has found her passion in women’s portraiture.

Little Inuk Photography ~ Capturing beautiful images of beautiful people

Stay in Touch:

Web: Little Inuk Photography FB: Little Inuk Photography  Insta: @littleinukphotography Twitter: @littleinukphoto

 

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.

 

 

The Moosehide Gathering – Shayla Snowshoe

Over the summer, I had the wonderful privilege and honor of being the head photographer at the Moosehide Gathering (MHG) in Moosehide, Yukon. Before I start, I would just like to say that I hope that I can do the gathering justice through my writing and by sharing some of my favorite photographs from the amazing weekend. The MHG is such an amazing, eye opening and life changing experience and should be added onto your bucket list.

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The MHG is 4 days long and consists of an extensive array of different, unique and cultural aspects. From the early morning hours right until midnight, there is always something going on. The stage is a constant showcase of all of the different artists and cultural performers; from singers, to drum dancers, to comedy, to fiddle music. Aside from the performances, you can also find several workshops that offered – the beading workshop always has a great turn out! There is also an artist’s tent where you can find beautiful art work from different artists throughout Canada and even from Alaska.

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There are many other beautiful aspects of the MHG that I have never seen anywhere else. There is a sacred fire that is lit at the opening ceremonies and is maintained day and night over the entire weekend. The fire is sacred because it hears and carries everyone’s prayers up to our ancestors and the Creator. I literally felt so much power and enlightenment just by sitting around the fire. There was also a Dene hand games demonstration, I got to play a few rounds, which was so fun! It was awesome to see the different styles of playing within the Yukon. One more thing that has got to be mentioned is the feast that is held every night… the cooks work all day, cooking up an amazing meal consisting of traditional delicacies, and they feed every single person that is at the gathering. AMAZING.

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My absolute favorite part of the gathering was the prayer circle that takes place during the closing ceremony. This year, there had to have been hundreds of people in the largest prayer circle that I have ever seen – the circle basically encompassed the entire village of Moosehide. It wasn’t only the size of the circle that amazed me, but the power… I could literally feel the power that radiated from every individual while in the very middle of the circle, taking photographs from every angle. It was one of the most incredible and humbling moments of my life, I even took a moment to just stand there and take it all in.

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The MHG is one of the most powerfully healing events that I’ve had the pleasure of attending for the past two years. My life literally changed within those 4 days and I leave there with a different, clear mindset and a happy heart.

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To end off this post, I would just like to say Mahsi Cho to the people and the community of Moosehide for not only hiring me, but for welcoming me so warmly to your homelands and for allowing me the opportunity to capture your absolutely beautiful culture and people. Mahsi Cho for treating me as one of your own, it means the world to me. It has truly been an honor.

 – Shayla Snowshoe, Northwest Territories

Find her on Facebook

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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.”

Chi Miigwetch

-Dayna Danger

The Process of Beadwork – Catherine Blackburn

I pour the beads out of the small plastic bags into separate piles on an old tea towel. Bright bags in every colour litter the dining room table as the odd bead rolls off the edge, bouncing on the floor as it finally comes to a stop somewhere by my feet. This has become all very common the last few months as I work to complete projects, while new ones percolate in my mind. The process can be both therapeutic and overwhelming, yet when I make the last stitch…my oh my…oh so gratifying.

I sit here and try to gather my thoughts, telling myself to relax and just speak truthfully, as I answer some of those questions about why it is I do what I do, and also how to find the perfect words that someone may hold dear in their journey. The over-analyzing sometimes unbearable. My anxiety can often get the best of me.

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I was born in Ile a la Crosse, Saskatchewan, where the closest hospital exists in proximity to Patuanak, Saskatchewan, the place that holds the key to much of my work. I am a member of the English River First Nation. I am mixed blood, having Dene and European roots. I grew up in Choiceland, a predominantly white community in rural Saskatchewan. After attending university, I immediately travelled. I spent an incredible 4 months in Morley Alberta working with Aboriginal youth, alongside my dear friend Kirsten. The beautiful soul that taught me the art of applied bead work. I spent a year in Seoul, South Korea, and later 2 years in Taiwan. These are just some of the experiences that influence my work. These and all the moments in between.

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This new place of comfort includes both memories and moments alike. The smell of smoke from a wood burning stove will always transport me to the few memories I hold of my late grandpa Eugene. The sound of my mom’s laugh as she speaks Dene with her siblings on the phone brings me joy. Honouring my late aunty Tiny through learned jewellery techniques links me in ways I otherwise feel lost. Speaking to my grandma, as our conversation gets skewed and distorted with our language barriers, now makes me smile. Like the other day when we were somehow talking about my struggle with shingles (I don’t have shingles). I’ve grown to not be ashamed of how I don’t speak or understand the Dene language. I’ve welcomed myself, this strong woman with mixed blood and mixed experience. I don’t have the perfect explanations in response to heated conversations on socio-economic problems plaguing our people. I’ve also learned to accept that I don’t need to explain at all….educate yourself.

With this liberation, my work processes have become more freeing. Using traditional materials and techniques I’ve twisted the rules just enough to allow me to play. My bead work is photo-based, incorporating transfers, sometimes as a tool and others as a base for my design. No matter the final outcome my goal remains constant. The direct relationship to my European and Dene heritage challenges me to create innovative work that encourages dialogue between traditional art forms and new interpretations of them. These are the tools I use to create, and with those in mind that I hold near and dear to my heart, I am inspired to create messages of kinship and resiliency.

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And with that last stitch I take a deep breath. Ahhhhh, relief and satisfaction. A big smile and a much needed stretch of the back. I stand back and admire my work from all directions. At different angles the beads sparkle in shades of red, purple, blue and green. This beaded galaxy of colour forms a bruise. It’s colour and shape made apparent against the cream coloured deer hide of which it is applied to, the hide light in colour having never been kissed by smoke. The direction of beads twist and turn in application with every third bead being tacked down, reinforced.

I think about the story my mom once told me; how my grandmother once collected someone’s lost beads from the floorboard cracks of an old log cabin to start her first beading project. Now her table sits scattered with every colour of the rainbow while others sit stored away in cookie and tea tins.

I reflect on the reason for creating this beaded bruise, an expression of pain and continuous healing from the trauma of the residential school system. I think about the different voices created through my work; some speaking to raise awareness, and others reminding us all to tread compassionately. I reflect on the enormous task of our people to hunt, skin, stretch, and smoke hide, in all it’s knowledge and strength. I look down at my bead holder, the old tea towel, and notice that the beads so precisely poured onto it at the beginning of this project now lay scattered and mixed.

I pick up my project and realize its weight.

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Catherine’s work embraces two inspirations in her life-family and culture. Through the subject of family, she is inspired to express her own feelings and experiences which speak to the complexities of memory, history and cultural identity. Her art merges contemporary concepts with elements of traditional Dene culture, simultaneously exploring the significance and history of certain materials and their role in the fur trade. This direct relationship to her European and Dene heritage challenges her to create innovative work that encourages dialogue between traditional art forms and new interpretations of them. Through these overlapping themes of relationships, history, and identity, she hopes to weave a strong message of connection, kinship, and resiliency. Catherine encourages the viewer to reflect on their own experiences and to explore and question how we all define and appreciate the Aboriginal experience in Canada. – website 

Current Gallery Work: Bead Works, Slate Fine Art Gallery, Regina

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

2 From the series Nitewakénon_2015

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.

The Place Where I Come From_2015

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.