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The 11th Annual
New Sun Conference on Aboriginal Arts:
Reconfigured Realities

Carleton University, Saturday, March 3, 2012

 
P r e s e n t a t i o n s
 

KC Adams

Winnipeg-based artist KC Adams addresses issues of identity, technology, and health in her multi-media visual arts practice. Her work reflects her mixed ancestry, bringing together opposing ideas and generating dialogue through tension. Adams selects a medium based on her message, creating multilayered work that is both aesthetically appealing and conceptually challenging. Inspired by Donna Haraway’s essay “A Cyborg Manifesto,” Adams explores hybrid identities throughout her work. A series of installations focusing on isolation and technology, Cyborg Living Spaces allows participants to interact with cyborgs. Adams has staged a one-week long performance piece in her Cyborg Living Space: Office, communicating with participants via instant messaging while being visible through her webcam. Her Cyborg Eggs installation raises issues surrounding the modern food industry, featuring illuminated, porcelain chicken eggs covered in feathers, flour, and sugar, with a soundtrack of chicken noises playing in the background. For her Cyborg Hybrids series, Adams photographed Indigenous individuals in beaded chokers and white t-shirts printed with stereotypes, and then augmented the images in Photoshop to evoke an airbrushed, magazine aesthetic, raising issues surrounding Indigenous identity and definition. Adams stresses the modern, technologically savvy dimension of her cyborgs through accessories including a beaded iPod case, mittens, and flip-flops, all illuminated with LED lights. In her Community Art Patrol performance, Adams collaborated with Valery Camarta to patrol an area in Winnipeg and encourage respect for the artists and homeless people who are forced out during tourist season. Her 2003 print series Circuit City is drawn from aerial photographs reminiscent of circuit boards, drawing attention to the lines human beings create in the landscape. To encourage human interaction through technology, Adams’s Truth Dare Double-Dare interactive piece makes the childhood game available on a mobile device. During her residency in Australia, Adams created a series juxtaposing traditional arts such as birch bark biting and beadwork with modern technology. Adams is currently exploring the effects of diabetes on Indigenous communities across the globe in Not Another Statistic, a series of videos featuring Indigenous individuals speaking about the legacies they want to leave for their children.

Christine Welsh

Documentary filmmaker and educator Christine Welsh celebrates the strength, courage, and resilience of Indigenous women while addressing assimilation, residential schools, and violence against Indigenous women. Welsh describes filmmaking as the “ultimate collaborative art,” expressing gratitude to the Indigenous women who shared their stories with her, providing her with inspiration and guidance throughout her career. Working as a film editor for ten years, Welsh began writing, producing, and directing her own films for broadcast television in 1989 as a means of intervening in the mainstream media landscape. Of Romanian and Métis descent, Welsh was raised without access to her Métis heritage. This disconnection from language and community drove her to write her first feature length film, Women in the Shadows, to initiate a conversation on the legacies of colonization, using her own personal journey as a means of recovery and reclamation. Recognizing the integral role of Indigenous women in their communities, Welsh wrote and directed Keepers of the Fire to profile “warrior women” on the front lines of issues of sovereignty, land and environmental rights, political rights, and violence. In The Coast Salish Knitters, Welsh celebrates Coast Salish women, whose artistry and entrepreneurial skills allowed them to support entire families as traditional economies collapsed. Welsh’s most recent film, Finding Dawn, addresses the nearly six hundred Indigenous women who have gone missing or been murdered in Canada over the past thirty years. The film focuses on three of these women and their families: Dawn Crey, Ramona Wilson, and Daleen Kay Bosse, putting a human face to the lost and those left behind. Welsh hoped to raise awareness surrounding this issue, at the time shrouded in silence, as well as to offer inspiration and hope for those who had lost loved ones. Throughout her work, Welsh reminds us that “ordinary women can do extraordinary things.”

John Kim Bell

Mohawk arts producer, composer, and conductor John Kim Bell celebrates the successes of Indigenous peoples. Recognizing the pitfalls of a “culture of victimization,” Bell established the National Aboriginal Achievement Awards (NAAA) as a strategy of resistance, promoting freedom of expression and identity through the arts. Bell designs NAAA productions with the understanding that “aboriginal isn’t a look, it’s an idea,” challenging expectations of Indigeneity while also offering accessible productions for non-Indigenous viewers. Throughout his career, Bell has refused to be limited or defined by either mainstream society or Indigenous communities, affirming the liberated and limitless nature of art. To address the high dropout rates of Indigenous youth, the NAAA Foundation also distributes scholarships to youth to encourage talent early on.  In 1988, Bell produced the first Indigenous ballet, In the Land of Spirits, for the National Arts Centre, despite scepticism regarding its relevance to Indigenous peoples and its financial viability. During the colonial period, Indigenous communities were prevented from participating, learning, and changing naturally, and as a result, many Indigenous peoples are frozen in time, experiencing a form of “cultural lag.” As Bell points out, however, Indigenous peoples have always adapted and changed throughout history, and art holds immense potential for liberation. Bell also recognizes the necessity of creating economically sustainable Indigenous communities, highlighting that more than 50 percent of Indigenous peoples have left reserves as a result of unemployment, abuse, and poverty. Bell puts a challenge to Indigenous leadership to address the realities and develop realistic goals and measures to improve living conditions on reserves. Bell has participated in numerous panel discussions on political and economic issues for Indigenous peoples, offering radical solutions including the development of “Indian City,” an amalgamation of 24 communities into a single area, allowing for more services and investments. As the President and CEO of Bell & Bernard Limited, a national Indigenous public relations firm specializing in First Nations-Corporate-Government Relations, Bell has helped develop fair and equitable renewable resource development projects to improve the economic standing of Indigenous peoples across Canada. Rather than clinging to past ideas of Indigeneity, Bell affirms the necessity of going forward and developing new cultural icons.

Skawennati

Mohawk new media artist and independent curator Skawennati sees her work as a way of “reconfiguring reality,” envisioning Indigenous people in the future rather than always looking to the past. Commissioned by the Edmonton Art Gallery for their millennium show, Imagining Indians in the 25th Century is a web-based paper doll/time-traveljournal highlighting exceptional Indigenous people and events from each year over a 1000 year period beginning in 1490. Influenced by Neal Stephenson's science fiction novel Snow Crash, Skawennati actively engages with history, the future, and change in her work. In 2002, the online magazine Horizon Zero commissioned Skawennati and her partner Jason E. Lewis to create the Flash movie Thanksgiving Address, which updates the traditional Iroquois oration to include thanks for modern technology. In considering the future of Indigenous people and their place in cyberspace, Skawennati and Lewis recognized that human beings themselves are the natural resource of virtual spaces. Out of this insight they developed CyberPowWow, a pioneering on-line gallery and chat space for contemporary Indigenous art. From there, they formed the company Aboriginal Territories in Cyberspace (AbTeC), a teaching tool which helps Indigenous peoples navigate and tell their own stories in cyberspace. AbTeC works in Second Life, an on-line virtual world in which individuals can build and create using their own avatars (surrogate bodies in the virtual space). AbteC also features a mentorship and training component for individuals interested in participating in the art world. One of AbTeC’s major projects, Skins, involves mentoring Indigenous youth to tell their stories by designing their own videogames. In Skins 1.0, youth at the Kahnawake Survival School designed their game based on a traditional Mohawk boogeyman legend, while Skins 2.0 was conducted at Concordia University and culminated in a game based on another traditional Mohawk story involving a young hunter. Designed as a male companion piece to Imagining Indians, TimetravellerTM is a machinima (movie in a virtual environment) in which an angry young Mohawk man living in the future travels in time to events in Indigenous history. Skawennati hopes to one day have Indigenous communities interacting and gaming on a global scale.

BluePrintforLife - Stephen Leafloor, Creeasian, Evie Mark

Founder of BluePrintforLife Stephen Leafloor (a.k.a. Buddha) engages in social work through HipHop. Leafloor works alongside dancer, DJ, and BeatBoxer Creeasian; throat-singer and translator Evie Mark; and a group of other dedicated crew members to facilitate healing through the arts with youth in the Arctic. During five consecutive full-day workshops, BluePrintforLife teaches Inuit youth about Bboying, inviting participants to bring in elements of their own culture. Through an intensive program, the crew is able to establish strong bonds with youth as well as teachers, parents, and elders, who are also encouraged to participate. After empowering youth through positive self-expression, BluePrintforLife discusses social issues including depression, addiction, isolation, suicide, abuse, bullying, drugs, and alcohol. By also including a component of traditional storytelling, drumming, and games, they affirm the importance of Inuit cultures as well as reversing the pedagogical dynamic, with youth offering instruction to the BluePrintforLife crew members. The program also features a leadership training component, as older participants are encouraged to provide guidance to younger participants. The inclusive, self-affirming nature of HipHop makes it an effective tool for addressing and diffusing strong emotions and building good mental health. Leafloor emphasizes the importance of encouraging youth to express their interests and incorporating this feedback into programs. BluePrintforLife crew members also share their own personal struggles to create dialogue and to establish strong interpersonal relationships with the youth. Leafloor developed the program six years ago in Iqaluit, and since then has travelled to 42 communities and facilitated more than 60 projects with Inuit youth. BluePrintforLife also brings young leaders from the program with them to educate them and to help sustain the initiatives after they leave communities. Despite the limitations of the program, Evie Mark emphasizes the importance of planting positive seeds in the minds of youth, referring to her own experience as an example. BluePrintforLife has recently introduced the program to correctional institutions, focusing on youth convicted of serious crimes.

 
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 .