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9th Annual New Sun Conference on Aboriginal Arts:
Something Else Again!
Carleton University, Saturday, February 27, 2010

 
P r e s e n t a t i o n s
 

Christi Belcourt

            Métis author and painter Christi Belcourt draws on traditional Métis floral beadwork patterns and knowledge in her work. The daughter of political activist and Métis leader Tony Belcourt, she grew up in the city while maintaining connections to her culture. In her recent series Great Métis of My Time, Belcourt creates a visual biography of the contemporary Métis Nation, including five portraits of individuals who have influenced her life and art. The  portraits include Métis political leaders Harry Daniels and Tony Belcourt; author and mentor Maria Campbell; lawyer, dancer, and bead worker Jean Teillet; and hunter and activist Steve Powley. Other work includes the self-portrait Bloodletting: Does This Make You More Comfortable With Who I Am, which criticizes the racist blood quantum applied to Métis people. In I Dress Myself in Stories, Belcourt brings the traditional stories and teachings back into herself to achieve wholeness of identity. Growing up without the spiritual dimension of her culture, Belcourt affirms that it is possible to reconnect with the spirit world that resides within each individual using tobacco and prayer. In her series Mapping Roots: Perspectives of Land & Water in Ontario, Belcourt reflects on the politics of mapping land and the cultural values encoded in the mapping process. From that series, A Work in Progress and Mnidoo Mnissing visually reinstate more than 400 original Indigenous community names onto maps. Belcourt explains that in her early work, she lacked the necessary knowledge of plants and beadwork. She went out on the land to spend time with the plants, recognizing that they are spirits equal to human beings. At this point, Belcourt began showing roots in her work, demonstrating that there are unseen dimensions of life and that all life requires nurturing. Eventually her canvases were covered in bead-like dots, emphasizing the interconnectedness of all life. In What the Sturgeon Told Me, she depicts an experience from the dream world, reflecting on habitat degradation and its effects on wildlife. With Prayer, Belcourt created a mnemonic device for herself and her daughter to recall the details of prayer. The painting on display at the conference is entitled My Heart (Is Beautiful), illustrating a deep web of interconnections between family, friends, nature, and ceremony. Belcourt pays respect to the elders who have profoundly influenced her, emphasizing that their teachings are like seeds that grow.

 

Manon Barbeau, Abraham Cote

            Manon Barbeau is a documentary filmmaker and the director of Wapikoni Mobile, a fully equipped travelling audiovisual and music training studio that visits Indigenous communities across Quebec. Wapikoni’s mandate is to break the isolation felt by Indigenous youth on remote reserves and to create a place where they can gather, share their voices, and create something positive. In 2004, Barbeau co-founded the project with the support of the Assembly of First Nations National Youth Council, the Band Council for the Atikamekw nation, the Assembly of the First Nations of Quebec and Labrador, and the National Film Board of Canada. It is named in honour of Wapikoni Awashish, a young Atikamekw leader and role model who died in a road accident in 2002. Wapikoni travels with two young professional filmmakers, an Indigenous coordinator from the community, and a social worker to listen to the youth and provide links to resources in the community. Participants choose their own film topics, often selecting personal and social issues. At this point, more than one thousand people have been trained in the program, producing almost three hundred films which have earned thirty-one prizes internationally. The films have been translated into five languages, with filmmakers travelling around the world to collaborate artistically with other Indigenous peoples and to attend film festivals, affording them the opportunity to engage with their audience, share their realities, and break down preconceived ideas about their communities. Algonquin filmmaker Abraham Cote from Kitigan Zibi has made three films with Wapikoni and recently secured an Aboriginal Jumpstart to Film grant for a feature film. Cote presents a selection of Wapikoni works, beginning with his film Two and Two, which makes connections between consumer culture and environmental degradation. Cote’s second film, The City, reflects critically on the loss of traditional lifestyle to modern technology and city life. Filmmaker Kevin Papatie’s The Amendment explores the effects of residential schools, illustrating the loss of language through four generations of one family. Filmmakers Carl Grégoire and Spencer St-Ongecreated Innu-Aimun: The Innu Language, a music video for the group Uashtushkuau, who sing about the importance of protecting Indigenous languages. Wapikoni returns to communities at least once a year, and is in the process of developing permanent studios in some communities. As well, they have collaborated with friendship centres to provide opportunities for urban Indigenous youth. Wapikoni also works to promote awareness of Indigenous peoples in secondary schools, and they hope to establish similar programs in other areas of Canada in the future.

 

Gerald Vizenor

            Internationally renowned Anishnaabe author and professor Gerald Vizenor addresses themes of post-colonial theory and trickster discourse in his work. Vizenor characterizes the trickster as transformational, unpredictable, and compassionate, as a shamanic vision in a story, and not a person. He co-edited a series of five novels by Indigenous authors with Diane Glancy entitled Native Storiers: A Series of American Narratives. In selecting novels for the series, Vizenor looked for innovative Indigenous narratives in a range of styles, including unusual characters, experiences, and stories arising from traditions past and present. The selections were to promote survivance, which is a sustained presence of resistance, serving to break down cultural boundaries, hierarchies of dominance, and challenge notions of tragic victimry. One of the books in the series, Glancy’s Designs of the Night Sky, suggests that stories contain the voices of every storyteller who has ever told them. As a result, the written word kills the story, Glancy claims, as it produces only a single voice. Another work from the series, Steven Graham Jones’ Bleed Into Me, explores notions of history using vivid and powerful imagery. Vizenor’s own short story “Chair of Tears” focuses on the governance of a university Native Studies Department. In a typical Vizenor twist, it is the least qualified person (the person who didn’t even apply) who proves to be the best department Chair. The Chair revokes the treaty rights of faculty to private offices, returning to a ‘communal life,’ while instituting casinos and healing centres in the former offices. Reading the first chapter from his new novel, Vizenor describes the character Captain Eighty, a trickster who lives by natural reason, and his wife Quiver, for whom he constructs a makeshift nuptial houseboat called the Red Lust. In this novel, Vizenor reflects on numerous themes ranging from Indigenous forms of knowledge to reservation governance. Recounting another trickster tale, Vizenor tells the story of the dog driving school. Making a distinction between commercial novels and literary art in regards to Indigenous writing, Vizenor observes that commercial Indigenous novels are forced to omit particular cultural practices for accessibility. Explaining the term ‘word-warrior,’ Vizenor describes it as those who take the discipline and meditation of the warrior consciousness into the resistance of survivance.

 

Marwin Begaye

            Navajo visual artist, diabetes awareness advocate, and professor Marwin Begaye begins his presentation with a reminder of the importance of reclaiming traditional protocols as an affirmation of identity. Begaye is part of the Red Streak People Clan, and his father is from the Black Streak People Clan. Growing up in New Mexico, Begaye was raised by his grandmother, a weaver, from whom he learned the weaving aesthetic and protocols. In the pieces Daydreaming and Grandma’s Hands, Begaye honours his grandmother’s skill and character. Collectively referred to as ‘Printmaking Papa and the Ink-slingers,’ Begaye and  his two children visit communities and conduct art workshops with children and elders as a means of breaking down barriers to discuss health and social issues. Eight years ago, Begaye was diagnosed with diabetes,  and realizing its prevalence in Indigenous communities, he created the series What’s Your Sugar? Diabetes in Indian Country to raise awareness. From that series, Begaye’s Sugar Monster illustrates the harmful physical and psychological transformation produced by the consumption of cane sugar. Aiming to broadly disseminate his message, Begaye drew inspiration from the artistic traditions of the Mexican printmakers and German Expressionists and adopted a Chinese woodblock technique. In the print Welcome to Club Diabetes, he draws connections between diabetes and alcoholism, and in Hastiin Nez Changes his Name to Hastiin Shorty, between diabetes and lower-limb amputation. Begaye also directs his commentary at the fast food industry in such works as Drive Thru Window and Fast Food Warrior. To speak directly to a diversity of Indigenous communities, Begaye employs culturally specific imagery and symbolism. In a recent series, Begaye illustrates connections between lifestyle and obesity, depicting American icons such as Uncle Sam, Captain America, and Wonder Woman as unhealthily overweight. Drawing on his work as a graphic designer, Begaye subverts popular junk food logos in such works as Little Devil’s Crack Cakes, Fool-aid, and Killsveryslow. Similarly, Dolly draws on the Pop Art aesthetic to critique the genetic modification and cloning of food. After losing two of his brothers to diabetes, Begaye created a series of prayer mandalas as a source of healing. In another series, Begaye layers bird images against textile-inspired backgrounds, reflecting on environmental degradation and its effects on different avian species. He has recently collaborated with young Maori artists to redesign similar corporate logos from the food industry.

Tanya Tagaq

          Inuit throat-singer and jazz/classic vocalist Tanya Tagaq describes the improvisational quality of her music as a dialogical interaction with her audience. Raised in Iqaluktuuttiaq, Nunavut, Tagaq was born to an English father and an Inuit mother. She attended residential school in her youth and completed a BFA in Halifax. Tagaq describes her experience of culture shock and homesickness in university, which her mother tried to lessen with care packages that included throat-singing CDs. Inspired by the traditional music, Tagaq began experimenting with throat-singing techniques. She participated in a talent show in her home town which aired on the radio, and shortly thereafter, she was asked to perform in Yellowknife’s Folk on the Rocks music festival. While teaching at the Nunavut Arctic College, Tagaq travelled to Inuvik to present her visual art and ended up on stage after one of the performers cancelled. Two colleagues of Icelandic musical artist Björk saw Tagaq’s performance, and within six months, she was on a world tour. Holding deep respect for traditional throat-singing, Tagaq reconnects with her home through her throat-singing inspired music. She celebrates the perseverance and resilience of Inuit people amidst radical change, while addressing the pain and dysfunction in many communities. By communicating with ancestors and drawing out instinctual knowledge through her music, Tagaq aims to heal individuals in a spiritual sense. She affirms the importance of love and respect for oneself and others, emphasizing women’s primacy in their closeness to God and life-giving potential. In her film collaboration with Igloolik Isuma Productions entitled Tungijuq, Tagaq explores themes of transformation and tradition, merging CGI technology with primal sounds in what Tagaq describes as an almost “uncomfortable” combination. She is currently working on another collaboration with Isuma and will be recording music out on the land for the National Parks Project this upcoming summer. Tagaq also plans to release a book in the near future. To demonstrate the mechanics of throat-singing, her cousin Celina Kalluk joined her in performing some traditional songs, including “Song of the Goose” and “Song of the Mosquito.” Although her music “breaches tradition,” Tagaq has received positive responses from the elders of her community.

Synopses by Anna Eyler

 
Please note: All presentations have been archived on DVD and can be borrowed individually from the Carleton University MacOdrum Library.  
 
 
A presentation of the New Sun Chair in Aboriginal Art and Culture
with the support of the Dean of Arts and Social Sciences and the New Sun Fund
administered by the Community Foundation of Ottawa .