Art, Inspiration & Fashion – April Johnson, Guest Blogger

Fall is in full swing, and I couldn’t be happier about it! Summer is great and all, but the older I get I realize I’m more productive in the colder months, and kinda like being a homebody! So yeah, I’m looking forward to getting i*sh done, but will definitely make
time to also step out in Vancouver to take in the beautiful fall colors!

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When I’m getting into ‘the zone,’ I’ve got my routine down – steep the tea, throw on the moccasins and sweats and light my favorite cedar incense. All this usually gets me ready to pour my heart into my photos, scripts and film ideas.

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However, over the past few weeks, I’ve been looking over in admiration at other artists more than I’ve been looking within, and although I want to get sit, sip and bring my ideas to fruition, I also want to celebrate the success of some kick-ass ladies working hard at that they love. Really, these ladies deserve a shout out!

Two people I’ve looked over to and found inspiration from are Joleen Mitton, Founder of Vancouver International Fashion Week (VIFW) and activist and filmmaker Rose Stiffarm. I met up with both ladies in Vancouver to discuss staying focused on art, inspiring others and indigenous fashion.

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Rose Stiffarm

April: What advise would you give to youth about staying focused and following their artistic interests?

Rose: I know that some of my mentors in the arts have told me to keep practicing; you’re only going to get better… and if one art form doesn’t work our for you, there’s always other art forms out there to help express yourself. I think a lot of what’s wrong out there in society is that we keep a lot of our emotions inside and we don’t have a way to express ourselves, but it’s important.

Rose Stiffarm

April: What about your personal style? How do you feel fashion helps you express yourself?

Rose: I definitely look to trends to see what’s out there for fashion, but I don’t let it dictate what I wear. I add to it with other pieces that reflect more so who I am. It feels like myself isn’t necessarily reflected in mainstream fashion, and so it’s nice to have my own spin on things, and I noticed that because of that, I end up having a lot more interactions with strangers. In a way, it’s more about being seen in a society where we we’re not always seen.

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 Joleen Mitton, portrait by Thosh Collins

April: What inspired you to start Vancouver Indigenous Fashion Week?

Joleen: I was a model for a long time, since I was 15 years old. I was working in really shallow industry and then come out of it and worked for the community; I was becoming really drained because I was a frontline worker for a long time. So I really wanted to do something with both my frontline work and my fashion identity from before, because both didn’t really fit my personality, but put together, they did. So, being able to help my community without draining my emotions with intergenerational trauma was something I was trying to do.

April: What fuels your ambition?

Joleen: A combination of things, like me making Canada native again…making it a safe space for First Nations to be in the city is really one of my main focuses. I’m trying to create native spaces all the time and I can’t help it. Making sure that the next generation coming up is comfortable in Canada, because it’s unceded territory is very important. The only way that we’re gonna survive is if we keep on doing stuff like that.

April: If you could describe Indigenous Fashion in a few words, how would you describe it?

Joleen: I might need more than a couple words, but: visibility, resilience, artisanship, reclaiming…

April: Any words of wisdom for youth about staying focused?

Joleen: Yes, I guess ‘don’t give up!’ (Laughs) I’ve noticed this with a lot of youth, some are great right out the gate, but sometimes it takes until you’re 30 to really get all your ducks in a row. And so it’s never too late to go get what you want. But do it slow, don’t do it fast, because once you do it fast, I feel like that’s when people slip up the most. Work on your relationships and work on yourself, and don’t take the fast road, take the slow road. It took 7 years to make VIFW. I feel that if you go at a slow pace and do things in an honorable way, and have the right relationships and nurture those relationships, you can succeed in anything. You don’t appreciate things you get quickly. You millennials out there stop that (laughs).

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— See what I mean? These ladies are great, and it’s awesome they’re sharing their gifts (and their wisdom) with the world. Just re-reading their interviews has me motivated to get crackin’ on the creative ideas buzzing in my head. With that said, I’ll gotta get to work!

 — april johnson


April Johnson is of Metis/Cree (Muskoday First Nation) and Settler ancestry and currently resides in Vancouver. She attended the Indigenous Independent Digital Film Program (IIDF) at Capilano University and has been working in media and independent film since 2015. Her interests include screenwriting, photography and promoting Indigenous women’s health. // stay in touch and connect: web: apriljohnson.net // insta: @aprilej

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thirty-three

I turned thirty-three earlier this year, and I celebrated at my nephew’s birthday party (he was turning five). I drank a few beers as the million and one kids bowled, screamed, ran around and caused chaos. I ate cake, telling everyone that he had high-jacked my birthday celebrations, and we laughed.

My birthday has never caused me stress, or made me freak out. I love celebrating me (note: I also love celebrating other people’s birthdays) and I love being able to justify the day spent on buying makeup, clothes, eating fancy food and being a diva. I’m one of those people who want birthday months. Love me, spoil me. Be my friend, eeeee.

Anyways, I was going through some digital archives, and was just giggling to myself. Some of these… cringe-worthy.

Let’s go through memory lane.

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March 2008. 24 yrs old. Charleston, SC. This was my first trip to Charleston, to visit my brother Trent. It was hot. Crazy hot. I had bangs, and reddish hair. I know, styling. But I went with my parents and my fiancé, at the time. We went to hockey games, the local aquarium, and I touched the Atlantic Ocean for the first time.

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March 2009. 25 years old. UBC Campus, Vancouver, BC.  I am attending UBC for my MFA in Creative Writing and I am so overwhelmed. But it’s good. I am student-poor. I splurge on a coffee I cannot afford, and I smile. The sun is shining. The mountains are outside the window. I write poetry. I am loved. All is well.

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March 2010. 26 yrs old. Jericho Beach, Vancouver, BC. It is one of our first picnics of the season, sitting on the bench and sipping local craft ale and homemade wine with friends. They take my picture, as I am always the one behind the camera. I hate it, but appreciate it now, years later.

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March 2011. 27 yrs old + 6 months pregnant. Lac La Plonge, SK. I am pregnant with my daughter, Aerie. I am newly married. I am terrified, but content. We are living downstairs in my parents house on the Rez, and while I feel like I should be ‘doing more,’ I am often reminded that I am making a human. And that’s enough.

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March 2012. 28 years old + 8 month old daughter. Saskatchewan. I have a daughter. I am often in the backseat, just watching her as she watched me. I did that. I made that. She made me.

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March 2013. 29 yrs old +  20 month old daughter. Somewhere on the way to Charleston, SC. My mom, my not-yet-two-year-old child and myself are on a road trip to Charleston again. This is my third visit. Mom and I had always planned to travel coast to coast together.

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March 2014. Dirty-Thirty. Saskatoon, SK. We drink too much, eat too fast, and laugh too loudly. No longer married, and adjusting to that single mom life, my friends and family come out to celebrate and I am given shots and stories, and I remember again – I am loved.

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March 2015. 31 years old. University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon, SK. I am guest-lecturing a class. This is insane. I am in my second year in my PhD program and I’m still wondering why anyone would trust me to teach anyone anything. I have also discovered the joys of makeup, which is nice.

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March 2016. 32. Regina, SK. I was asked to model in NDN Supermaidens by JT Arcand, and I am so freaking honoured. Surrounded by inspiring, Indigenous women, being as extra as I want to be – this is a good feeling. My friends and I travel to Regina to see the opening show, and I side-eye myself on a massive poster. I recognize myself in her, and I grin. Supermaiden, indeed.

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March 2017. 33 yrs old + 5 yrs old. Saskatoon, SK. We go out for macarons and hot chocolate, a big girl date, as she calls it. We sit and chat about kindergarten, university, and our favourite dessert. She holds my hand and leans against me.

“I love you,” she says quietly.

“I love you too,” I tell her, kissing the top of her head.

“Can you buy me another macaron then?” She smiles at me, her eyes crinkling up like her dad’s do, and I burst out laughing.

Yep, that’s my kid.

Blessed.

 – tenille  campbell 

she dances on northern lights

When I went to Vancouver last week-ish, I met up with my (now) good friend, Maddie. I had only previously met her at a wedding for a minute back in the day, but I was gonna crash on her couch because why not. I’ve been blessed in the past to be able to crash on new friend’s couches while travelling, and I knew that Maddie was originally from the North and we had multiple friends in common.

I got lost – of course – and pulled my massive suitcase into Maddie’s place, laughing as we awkwardly discussed how the trip was going. I’m not sure what broke the ice – it may have been her accent which is as thick as her hair (eeeee) – but once we started laughing and then coughing like old men, we quickly bonded and planned our photo session for the next day. Maddie is a talented dancer in multiple forms, but I really wanted to experiment with two ideas – a Métis Jigging Queen, and a more contemporary expression.

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I’ve always wanted to dance, and I’m still that kid out on the floor until the lights turn on, but once I saw the way Maddie could move – my heart ached even more for my lost dream. In a good way.

Maddie creates.

Maddie lives dance.

There was a fearlessness in her that I could appreciate, but never replicate. She gave me her all, and it was great to work with someone who trusted me to create my art while she did hers – making Indigenous magic happen.

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And because my creeper skills are great, I also contacted Elisha of @mua.nativebarbie after seeing some of her work on Instagram. She did this Coast Salish style on her face that had me thinking she could interpret what I wanted pretty easy. Elisha showed up, at first pretty quiet compared to Maddie and I, but as we went on – telling stories, snickering, coughing, sharing – Elisha started to laugh exactlyyyyyy like us. We’re a great influence.

And she slayedddddd her art.

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We were originally only going to the Métis Jigging creative session, but we had the opportunity to finish up with an oceanside session the day I left. We laughed over misheard words – “he thought your name was sweetPOON” – and I stood still for a second, listening to the Rez accents in a big city, the sweet rush of ocean wind blowing through our hair, and I smiled.

Sometimes you find kin in the most unexpected places.

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*These are just a few samples o fetch images; hella more coming soon 

Credits:  Model: Madelaine McCallum // Hair+Makeup: MUA Native Barbie  // Pink Gown: Chloë Angus Design // Earrings: Savage Rose  // Beaded Belt: Melody // Mukluks: Unknown (will gather name)

 – tenille campbell

Savanna Todd – Featured Artist

I’d like to introduce you to Savanna Todd. I met Savanna when I lived in Vancouver for a minute. I was involved at the Purple Thistle Centre a youth-run art and resource centre in east Vancouver where Savanna was a collective member. I moved away from Vancouver in 2012 and have stayed connected with many of the people I met via The Purple Thistle. Though I was there for a very brief time, I learned so much from the collective and the community there. The Purple Thistle has since closed its doors but the connections made there still reverberate. I invited Savanna to share some of her photography for this blog, hope you enjoy!
Introduce yourself and where you are from.
My name is Savanna Todd and I live in east Vancouver.
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What is your relationship with photography as both photo taker and sometimes subject?
I’ve been dabbling in photography from behind and in front of the camera for awhile now. Although it’s never grown as more than a hobby, I still take classes and feel compelled to keep using it as a tool to explore composition and my own personal interests.
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What other media do you work in?
I’m primarily an illustrator. I’m currently studying Illustration at Emily Carr University. I’ve also made short films.
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Where do you find inspiration for your art?
I’m very taken by vivid color-schemes and bold angles. I often look to old Hollywood and contemporary fashion photography for inspiration and cues, anything that conveys the mood that I’m going for.
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Film or digital?
I’ve shot on both. I have to say that although I love film, I feel more comfortable using digital because it allows me to take as many pictures as I want while having the option to view each one.
> > Connect with Savannah on Instagram <<
 – joi t arcand