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‘I paint for healing’: Indigenous art in the time of COVID-19 – TVO

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This story was published in partnership with Journalists for Human Rights.

Michel Dumont, 53, remembers getting a new job when he was 29 and partying so hard in celebration that he missed his first day of work. Alcohol abuse was not new to him — he says it’s connected to intergenerational trauma. His mother had attended the Indian Residential Day School in Nipigon, where she received an education in colonial values. “For my mom, school taught her not to value herself or culture. School beat the Ojibway out of her,” he says. “And my mom tried the same with me and my sister. And I have trauma resulting from that — the trauma from Indian Day School carried on.”

Dumont, a queer, Métis, two-spirit man living in Thunder Bay, coped by drinking until he couldn’t feel or remember the pain. But missing his first day of work was a turning point. He promised himself that his thirties wouldn’t be like his twenties, and he began working toward sobriety. He got a job at a transportation company serving people with disabilities — a job that involved lifting the people he was transporting. He focused on work as a distraction from alcohol but pushed himself too far. “No one told me with pain you should stop,” he says. Now, he has a degenerative disc disease and near-constant back pain. 

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He has been connected to art since early childhood — his mother was his first teacher, and elementary teachers quickly recognized his talents. In grade school, his work was selected for a travelling exhibit. He even won the Queen’s Jubilee, a competitive art award from the local legion. He turned to art to cope with both his physical and emotional pain. “I learned that I’m only so young — I only have so much time left,” he says. “My pain-free hours, I could be creating work.” 

He had his mother’s Indian Day School classroom picture made into ceramic tiles. From there, he smashed it into broken pieces and remade it into a mosaic to honour the students. The piece now hangs on the walls of the Definitely Superior Art Gallery in Thunder Bay.

Today, Dumont is not letting the COVID-19 pandemic — or his back pain — prevent him from showing his art digitally in Paris, Vancouver, Toronto, and Montreal; he held his first solo show in Winnipeg last summer. And he’s not alone. Artists from across Turtle Island are finding innovative ways of staying connected, honing their skills, and managing to make a living creating art.

Wanda Nanibush, an Anishinaabe curator at the Art Gallery of Ontario, says the pandemic has reinforced the importance of Indigenous art. “I think it’s interesting that everyone is at home and everyone is isolated, and they immediately turn to art,” she says. “And I think that’s because art is a place we can get out of ourselves and beyond ourselves. Art has always been seen as part of healing. I wouldn’t say it can heal a pandemic — that’s impossible. That’s an actual physical thing. But it can heal some of the trauma of living through one.”

Giizis Soon Ikwe is an Anishinaabe woman from Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug First Nation, but calls Animikii-wiikwedong, Thunder Bay, home. Her English name is Leanna Marshall. She  works as an Indigenous counsellor and is currently enrolled in the Winnipeg Holistic Expressive Arts Therapy Institute. The diploma program is taught through an Indigenized lens and honours Indigenous knowledge and pedagogy.

According to Marshall, the Western model of counselling is an uneven playing field, with a “client” who has a problem and an “expert” who can fix it. In this Indigenous art-therapy model, Marshall says, when a student enrolls, “there’s already that assumption that they are carrying that wisdom within themselves to help with what it is they are looking for. That wisdom comes from them, but it also comes from that ancestral knowledge that we all carry as Indigenous people of this land.”

Marshall says that there is a heaviness to Indigenous stories but that she feels a shift among nations due to the acknowledgement of trauma. These days, she notes, she’ll often hear friends, family, or clients say, “Okay, that happened: Now how do we fix it for us, our children, and future generations?”

“You see this resurgence of language, you see a resurgence of traditional knowledge, and you see a resurgence of people out on the land and doing things that haven’t been done for years because of the residential schools,” she says. “Because all these policies have kept Indigenous people quiet and ashamed of who we are, but people are becoming really proud.”

Lucille Atlookan, a 31-year-old from Eabametoong First Nation, was always encouraged by relatives to doodle and draw. Their uncle gave them their first paint set. However, they also struggled with health issues and trauma stemming from a sexual assault. As a teenager, they moved to Thunder Bay to access mental-health care. Now, they’re working on managing their physical health. “I got really sick because of lupus and chronic kidney disease,” says Atlookan. “I was close to kidney failure so I changed my diet drastically and went back to beading and painting. I’m not a painter, but I paint for healing.”

Atlookan moved to Thunder Bay at 15 years old and now calls the city home. They became involved with the Definitely Superior Art Gallery and created the Neechee Studio — a space designed for young Indigenous people to learn traditional skills that was originally hosted in the gallery (it’s now operating virtually). Through Neechee, they realized they wanted to be a better role model to other young people new to the city. For Atlookan, that meant getting an education. “I took the Native Access Program [at Lakehead University] and found my passion. It was always art, but I found I wanted to be an arts educator,” they say. Today, Atlookan is working toward concurrent honours bachelor degrees in fine art and education.

Atlookan is also learning how to run the studio’s arts programming. “For a long time, [Neechee Studio] wasn’t exactly run by Indigenous youth. I didn’t know how to run it — I was really shy and modest about it,” they say. “But I started to grow. I was mentored by Indigenous artists in Thunder Bay and Fort William First Nation, like Jean Marshall, Helen Pelletier, Rihkee Strapp, and Cree Stevens.” They also count non-Indigenous artist Lora Northway as a mentor.

Atlookan says their line of family portraits helped them see the strength and wisdom in their family. They want to use art to help youth see their inherent traditional knowledge.

Dumont is now focusing on a line of cellophane art called Queer CosPlay. Essentially, he takes coloured cellophane and creates a shape — a wig, an Elvis outfit, a COVID-19 virus — and adds multiple layers until he’s reached a desired colour and design. He enjoys the medium because it doesn’t bother his sensitivity to smell. He also still works with tiled mosaic, which he first used 20 years ago. “I found these sample boards on Simpson Street, behind a ceramic-bathroom-tile store, and these sample boards were just lying in the alley, with these beautiful colours,” he says. “I took them home on the bus; that’s what started me off at that first show.”

He’s now part of a mentorship program with the Arts AccessAbility Network of Manitoba.

He says art helps him manage his anxiety and helps him express his creative side. He learned to focus his energy on creating while he is pain-free, usually first thing in the morning. The act of creating, he says, relaxes and soothes his mind — it reminds him of his grandparents knitting in front of the television, which grounds him as he does the same, only with mosaics or cellophane: “I’m still doing that, working while I watch television.”

Correction: An earlier version of this article misspelled Michel Dumont’s first name. TVO.org regrets the error.

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Moose Jaw Art Guild meets to discuss its upcoming MJMAG exhibition – moosejawtoday.com

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The Moose Jaw Art Guild is excited for their 54th Christmas exhibition at the Museum & Art Gallery

Led by President Karen Walpole, ten members of Moose Jaw’s Art Guild gathered for only the second time in 18 months to discuss their upcoming exhibition. The forms necessary for submission were distributed, and everyone chatted about how their works were progressing.

The theme for this year is “Looking Out My Window,” to be interpreted by the artist. A variety of mediums are encouraged, including drawings, pastels, watercolours, and sculptures.

Many of the works displayed in MJMAG’s lobby will be for sale. The exhibition will open on Nov. 12th, and continue until Jan. 9th of next year. 

Karen Walpole noted that she is “always excited” to share some of the Art Guild’s venerable history, particularly in regards to its role in the founding of MJMAG. She says that, “Back in 1963, the City of Moose Jaw asked what was then the Moose Jaw Fine Arts Guild to comment on their plan to celebrate Canada’s 100th birthday.” 

The Guild took that chance to strongly endorse and lobby for a “Cultural Centre” in Crescent Park near the Public Library. The Moose Jaw Art Museum opened in 1967, and the Art Guild has had an annual exhibition there ever since. 

Jennifer McRorie, MJMAG’s current curator and director, confirms that the Art Guild was “instrumental in getting the art museum established.” She adds that, “In 2017 we celebrated our 50th anniversary, and so we actually presented an exhibition from our permanent collection that was the result of 50 years of collecting the work of Moose Jaw artists.”

The Guild itself was established on a cold February night in 1929, after a presentation by influential Saskatchewan artists Vaughan Grayson and Barbara Barber. That night, the Women’s Art Association of Saskatchewan was voted into existence. In 1957 it became the Moose Jaw Fine Art Guild, and in 1984 it achieved its current form as the Moose Jaw Art Guild. 

This year’s exhibition comes on the heels, obviously, of the enormous disruption of the global pandemic. Nevertheless, the Guild endures, and is always open to new members. Walpole sincerely emphasizes that one purpose of their showings is to, “provide encouragement and an introduction to many of us that want to try our artistic hands, but don’t know where to start.”

Art is about expression, moving beyond the limitations of language to convey emotion in a subjective, yet direct way. Although it is not possible to control exactly how one’s art is perceived, this should not be a barrier. The main thing, Walpole says, is “to have the confidence to at least attempt an art form of some kind.”

More information about the Art Guild, its meetings, and how to join can be found on their Facebook page.

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Knitting for Guelph's Art Not Shame: 3 things to know about the organization and fundraiser – GuelphMercury.com

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Knitting for Guelph’s Art Not Shame: 3 things to know about the organization and fundraiser  GuelphMercury.com



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So you want my arts job: Art Installer – ArtsHub

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A rare opportunity saw Andrew Hawley join the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV) as a casual art handler after graduating from his BFA in Drawing at RMIT in 2003.

Eighteen years later, he is now the Collection and Exhibition Preparator at Hobart’s Museum of Old and New Art (Mona), known for their eccentric and challenging exhibitions, and undoubtedly, one of the most exciting environments in which to work in art installations, storage, and exhibition preparations.

He also holds a Masters in Cultural Materials Conservation from the University of Melbourne, and has worked across ACMI, the Victorian Arts Centre, ExhibitOne, POD Museum and Art services, and the Melbourne Immigration Museum.

From Ron Meuck’s 10 metre infant sculpture to Ai Weiwei’s White House (2015) in Mona’s Siloam, Hawley and his colleagues are the answer to your question: ‘But how did they manage to get it there?’

Here, Hawley shares the excitement of working on high-profile exhibitions and discusses the skills you would need to pursue this challenging but rewarding profession.

HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE WHAT YOU DO?

In a nutshell; I prepare artwork and other culturally significant material for storage, exhibition and loan, and assist with exhibition/display installation. My role is quite varied but I spend most of my time at our off-site collection store where I design, construct and fit out custom packing units for artworks. These vary from timber crates and travel frames to archival board boxes, archival tubes for rolled works and the occasional solander box. I also ensure artwork is clean and display ready. 

I organise and maintain the off-site collection storage area which involves a lot of 3D Tetris. I work closely with colleagues including registrars, a conservator, a mount maker and several other very highly skilled art handler/technicians as well as a wider team of kinetic artwork and time based media technicians.

I assist with exhibition installation/deinstallation and collection changeover at the museum and some external locations during festivals.

I’m also a qualified paper conservator so I undertake some conservation assessments and treatments when required.

Read: So you want my arts job: Museum Program Producer

HOW DID YOU GET STARTED IN YOUR CAREER?

I finished a fine art degree in 2003 and was looking for something outside the hospitality industry and inside the museum/gallery industry. Luckily, a regular customer at one of the venues I worked in (as a chef/cook), let word slip that the National Gallery of Victoria were hiring casual art handlers to prepare to move into the refurbished premises at St Kilda Road. I got the boss’ details, wrote an application letter, attended a job interview and somehow was successful, despite no prior experience.

WHAT DO YOU LOOK FORWARD TO THE MOST IN YOUR JOB?

Unique challenges and a reliance on lateral thinking for solutions – something I experience almost every day. I also have great colleagues with whom I liaise about all aspects of the job. We learn from each others’ creative perspectives.

I love the excitement of a large or high profile exhibition, including engagement with external or international artists and curators, trying to help realise a vision that may or may not be clear in everybody’s mind. I equally love the calm and solitude of a collection store and the fact that I work so closely with museum objects on a daily basis. If I have a bad day, looking at an ancient Egyptian mummified cat or some 2,000 year old bronze knife coins is very soothing. 

IN AN INTERVIEW FOR YOUR JOB, WHAT SKILLS AND QUALITIES WOULD YOU LOOK FOR?

Similar institutional experience in a similar capacity (eg. art handling, art packing) would be a must. It takes many years to attune yourself to the level of care required around culturally significant objects and irreplaceable artworks.

Other qualifiers would include:

  • A strong work ethic
  • An ability to handle multiple projects with strict deadlines
  • The ability to delegate fun jobs
  • The ability to undertake monotonous or tedious jobs
  • Strong, clear communication
  • Patience
  • Physically fit and able

The ability to look outside oneself and one’s own experience for solutions. It’s a bit of a ‘jack of all trades’ kind of position and a good Jack should know when they need to call on a master of something.

Someone who prefers order and neatness in their professional life. I’m in no way the neatest person in my private life but organising a storage area that keeps artwork safe and secure requires a high degree of attention to detail.

WHAT IS ONE OF THE MOST MEMORABLE INSTALLATION EXPERIENCES/PROJECTS THAT YOU’VE WORKED ON?

There’s been a lot over the years – I’ve done everything from helping carry and install a 10 metre silicon sculpture of an infant (Ron Mueck) to hanging iconic works from Picasso, Munch or Tom Roberts. From installing 100 tiny neolithic arrow/spear heads in one showcase to helping build a large, imperial Chinese house framework on glass balls (Ai Weiwei), and from installing famous AFL players’ jerseys in a sports museum (MCG/Australian Sports Museum) to hanging stills from Kubrick’s 2001 Space Odyssey (ACMI).

It’s hard to pick one moment from one project. In recent times, it’s probably been the preparatory work and final install of big MONA shows like On the Origins of Art, The Museum of Everything and our recent Monanisms 2021 collection based exhibition.

WHAT’S THE BEST THING HAPPENING IN YOUR SECTOR AT THE MOMENT?

We’re still operating and I still enjoy my job.

Read: So you want my arts job: Theatre Technician

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