Indigenous artist in Canada

“Two Bull Moose” by Norval Morrisseau at Glenbow Museum. Calgary, Alberta. Photo by Raymundo Moreno.

Do you know that in June in Canada we celebrate the INDIGENOUS HISTORY MONTH? Yes, but this month besides being a celebration, is dedicated to recognizing and acknowledging that these lands which now are called “Canada» have a very rich and forgotten past and history. Who are the indigenous people? Also known as the first nation or Aboriginal people. Incorrectly called Indians or Eskimos as these terms fell in disrespect or negative expressions. Let’s educate us a little bit and know some history of the real natives who have been here at least since 14000 years ago.

Why do very few people, especially immigrants or newcomers, know very little or nothing about the First Nations? Well, after the colonization of 1497 and with the arrival and settlement of white people (Europeans), the first nations started to experience any kind of racism and segregation, mostly the expropriation of their lands and the segregation of the indegenous people in what is commonly called Reserve, (a specially designed area which white people usually didn’t like). Some years ago Iheard someone said “It’s like you invited some guests over to your house and then they decided to stay over in your whole house and locked you in the basement” that’s an analogy of what happened to the indigenous people. In addition to these acts and as the white people realized that even segregating and ripping the Natives were still strong and organized, they decided to take the new generation of Natives to residential schooling, where the main idea was to indoctrinate them with the European and religious culture. 

“The Scream” by Kent Monkman. Glenbow Museum. Calgary Alberta. Photo by Raymundo Moreno.

Lately, we have heard about all the bodies of hundreds of kids found in this kind of school as many of them were not giving up on their culture and disobeying the rules of the schools, sadly they faced severe punishments, and some of them even the death. Few of them play differently and learn the new culture without forgetting their roots and later become leaders of their people speaking out and demanding better life quality.  To learn more about this act I recommend you to read one book which I personally like NATIVE AMERICAN TESTIMONY by Peter Nabokov. 

Nowadays, the government of Canada has been looking for a reconciliation with the indigenous people, there have been ceremonies and acts of Apology by the crown and the catholic church. 

So now after this quick but significant introduction, we can get into our business and check out these amazing painters, all of them Indigenous, also let’s quickly check what are the most common elements in Indigenous paintings and what are the meanings.

Nanabush Catches The Eagle” by Jackson Beardy | Image Source: McMichael Canadian Art Collection.

So firstly I wanna mention the indigenous group of seven, integrated by Eddy Cobiness, Alex Janvier, Norval Morrisseau, Daphne Odjig, Carl Ray, Joseph Sanchez, and Jackson Beardy. Jackson Beardy and Carl Ray are my favorites in this group because of their painting style. The group started to gather together at the start of the 70s mostly to talk about and express the frustration of Canadian art in those years. 

They officially bring alive this group 4 years later with the main purpose of incorporating indigenous art into Canadian society. 

Medicine Bear” by Carl Ray| Image Source: McMichael Canadian Art Collection.

Typically the indigenous artists use primary colors and try to express the spiritual reality of the first nations. The native artist makes good use of different lines which have different meanings. For example, lines of power, usually around the head of the main character in the painting. Lines of communication, create connections between humans and animals, showing the nature of the interdependence between these two. Lines of prophecy, you can find these ones coming out from the mouths of powerful creatures in the paints. Lines of movement, usually close to an organ, trying to connect and communicate with the viewer. The divided circle, usually in half or quarters, represents the dualities in the word. 

In downtown, Toronto we can find easily Indigenous art. For example, the mural of Quentin “Que Rock” “Visual healing experience” at St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts. 

Visual healing experience” of Quentin  Picture By Raymundo Moreno. 

Artistic statement by Quentin: “This mural is meant to be a visual healing experience. The seven rings around Grandfather Sun represent the seven Grandfather teachings of the Anishinaabe people: Wisdom, Love, Humility, Respect, Honesty, Courage, and Truth. There are many layers of sacred geometry patterns on the mural.

The skyline includes the medicine-wheel teachings, Grandmother Moon and the 13 grandmother clan systems. The turtle shell represents North America’s creation story, the 13 full moons per year, and the seven grandfather teachings.”

Another example of indigenous art is the artwork of Emily Kewageshing  Here Now, Here Always: Walk with Us at union station. 

Here Now, Here Always: Walk with Us of Emily Kewageshing Picture by Raymundo Moreno. 

Artistic statement by Emily Kewageshing: “This installation by Anishinaabe artist Emily Kewageshig depicts four figures who walk ahead into the future, striving forward with ways of being and existing. The painting symbolizes the importance of culture transitioning throughout time and history. Kewageshig created the imagery to display how life is cyclical: it shifts, changes, and adapts in cycles in order to preserve knowledge and allow for continuity of future generations. Kewageshig ties this piece back to her homelands by using naturally found materials to ground the art piece and create a direct connection to where she comes from. The artist encourages viewers to recognize the history that is rooted in the land that we reside on, and to encourage viewers to Walk with Us on this journey, while imagining a future of togetherness.”

Also you can read: 5 steps to becoming an artist in Canada

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