J’net AyAyQwaYakSheelth – Nuu-chah-nulth Textile Artist, Cedar Bark Weaver, and Indigenous Outreach and Learning Coordinator at the ROM
For the Winter 2017 semester with support from its Aboriginal Education Council, the School of Fashion at Ryerson University developed Aboriginal curricula for its mandatory first year course FSN 223: Fashion Concepts and Theory, instructed by Dr. Ben Barry, Associate Professor of Equity, Diversity & Inclusion. A lecture was researched and delivered by Ojibway MA Candidate Riley Kucheran, and a panel event featured Angela DeMontigny, Métis Fashion Designer; Sage Paul, Setsuné Indigenous Fashion Incubator; and J’net Ayayqwayaksheelth, Nuu-chah-nulth Textile Artist, Cedar Bark Weaver, and Indigenous Outreach and Learning Coordinator at the ROM. ‘Fashioning Reconciliation’ is a conversation about Truth & Reconciliation, Cultural Appropriation and Indigenizing the Fashion Industry.
Marie Watt’s sewing circle and Nick Cave’s SoundSuits provide ways to start discussions around challenging issues.
As our long winter was on it’s way out and a new spring beginning an interesting initiative began here in Ottawa. Vicki Heyman, wife of US Ambassador to Canada Bruce Heyman, launched Art in Embassies, a project started by John F. Kennedy as way to share the talent of American artists abroad as well as “start cross-cultural dialogue“.
Maria Watt was the American artist chosen to open what has become a series of events focused on the role of art as a catalyst for social change. The timing seemed oddly predestined. Marie, a woman of mixed Settler / Indigenous heritage sat on the stage at the National Gallery of Canada speaking to Greg Hill (the NGC’s Audain Curator of Indigenous Art) about the connecting quality of her work.
“My work draws from my experience as a Scottish German Seneca person in the US growing up in Oregon…[I explore] Indigenous moments in history and European history – those nexuses.”
This was on the eve of the Roundtable Discussion on the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls that was also taking place in Ottawa that week. On the Friday, as Carleton University was hosting the National Roundtable, the Carleton University Art Gallery (CUAG), in collaboration with Art in Embassies, was holding a roundtable on Indigenizing the Gallerywith Marie as the honoured guest participant. If a nexus “is a series of connections linking two more more things” than what was happening at that precise moment in Ottawa, in the social spaces where art, academia and politics converge, was a moment where Indigenous women’s voices were being prioritized.
“will highlight the rich history of commerce and trade in Ottawa. The word “Ottawa” comes from the Algonquin word adawe, which means “to trade.”
Along with their blankets participants were requested to write a story that illustrated the importance of that blanket to their family. The stories become the currency and their richness is revealed in their ability to criss-cross countries and cultures, span many generations and fuse past with present. With her works involving blankets Marie does what she can to have the stories available for audiences to read (view some of stories from the NGC install here). At her National Gallery talk she related a few of them to us. One story was Peter’s. The blanket he gave to Marie came from a concentration camp. If I remember correctly, it was his wife’s and it was all she had when she was liberated from the camp. Eventually that same blanket would be used to wrap and protect art work purchased by the couple in the life they created together. Marie feels that such a story flies in the face of Hitler’s denigration of art and is a perfect symbol of reclamation – a blanket’s meaning transformed by its new role.
The stories are also ways for people to enter into the intimate space of another. In this complex historical moment where we struggle to understand the meaning of words like reclamation and reconciliation sometimes the way of navigating that complexity is through the simple act of creating a space for people to share moments. This is the strength of the Art in Embassiesinitiative which has been infused by Vicki’s desire to explore art as social practice precisely because it can build bridges and foster understanding between disparate social circles. As a way of gathering a diverse group together for a common goal, another event that was held as part of Marie’s visit to Ottawa was a sewing circle. It was moving to see people of all backgrounds, ages, and genders stitching together in the Great Hall at the National Gallery. And the artist was present! Marie took the time to speak with people as well as listen to new stories being shared. For Marie, it’s about being affable in her process. As she says, a sewing circle is about “tucking yourself into something as humble and familiar as cloth. It’s a safe space that’s a much more informal space – getting together in a neighbourly way.”
In these informal spaces people can digest what they might otherwise feel challenged to confront. Marie’s work, although not overtly political, is charged by a political climate that does it best to ignore Indigenous rights and a national leader who publicly declared that the issue of #MMIW (Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women) as not “really high on our radar.” As a Seneca woman she uses her art as a way to generously share Indigenous teachings to a non-Indigenous audience.
The next artist speaking as part of the series is Nick Cave. Nick’s work is also about looking at social as well as disciplinary nexuses of art, dance and fashion. Like Marie, he uses the act of sewing and assemblage to move a challenging conversation forward. The intense subject of racial profiling prompted Nick to look at ways we disregard and denigrate. His first “soundsuit” was created by gathering discarded sticks and twigs, the things that surround us during our day that we ignore and allow to become invisible. The final product functioned as both apparel to be worn by a dancer during a performance and sculpture to be inserted into a gallery space. Whether still or animated by performers whose race and class are concealed inside the soundsuits, Nick’s work is meant to break open a space. They are impossible to ignore. As performers climb inside they have a chance to access the feeling of being connected with something seemingly foreign from their everyday but yet some of the materials that Nick utilizes, like Marie’s blankets, are humble ones that are familiar to all.
Again, the timing of this event is important. After months and months of the heaviness of how racial profiling is being executed – literally – by agents of power, we need to widen the discussion around race that has been split open by the murders of black men at the hands of the police. The problematics of race isn’t just an American issue. Here in Canada the erasure of Black bodies in cultural, academic and political institutions has the potential to fester and become a much deeper problem. We need to have the challenging conversations immediately and those conversations have to happen in places like the National Gallery of Canada, an institution where Black contribution to Canadian history and art has been close to absent. No time like the present.
I applaud the audacious spirit that Vicki has brought to the cultural table here in Ottawa and I look forward to participating in more of these types events that create a nexus for change by widening the circle of social influence.
You can follow the conversation at #artconvoAIE. More events will be coming up in 2015!
Looking at the typography of a city through an Indigenous lens can fracture what we think we know. Chorography is the act of “describing or mapping a region.” The chorography of our cities effectively maps multiculturalism but underneath the Little Italys and Chinatowns original place markers have been trampled under the foot of many a newcomer.
Recent headlines have pointed to Winnipeg as being one of the most racist cities in Canada. For the urban Indigenous population in Winnipeg the city, whose name is derived from the Cree word win-nipi, is marked with anxiety. Marvin Francis was a playwright, author, visual artist and poet from Heart Lake First Nation and his experience of living on the “Urban Rez,” as he referred to Winnipeg, formed itself into a book titled City Treaty: a long Poem.
I was being followed
so I took my usual back alley route
trash can trails
make ’em get their feet dirty
but it was no use
you cannot shake a clown
that mask sees all
we begin the treaty project
we needed money we wrote
on the back maize flake boxes expensive
knows ever since sky ripples
mingles clown city native
write new treaty cost heap big money
the clown surveys post/city/modern/after treaty/after
lawyer = life
finds the reality:
As a teenager, moving off his reserve to the city, Marvin developed a complex relationship with Winnipeg.
“The urban Aboriginal experience is dependent upon the circumstances of the individual, and speaking in general terms is always dangerous, but I think it is a fair statement that, for the average Native who comes from the Rez, the city contains a spectrum that ranges from new possibilities to that social monster, crack.” Read more…
It’s hard to know where you are standing when the original place markers become impossible to find. But they are still there for those who are tenacious enough to search. Sometimes names hint at the histories that lay just below the surface of maps made for our ‘modern’ times.
tkaronto (Kanien’kehake), onitariio (Wyandot)
Where the trees are standing in the water, the beautiful lake
Counter-mapping is a term used to refer to the intentional use of mapping methodology and technology such as GIS, cartography and geomatics to make visible how dominant power systems have used maps as a way to assert control over territories often for the purpose of resource extraction and/or settlement.
Beyond the legal applications counter-mapping combined with visual ways of expressing space are being used by artists as a way of marking places with counter-narratives.
Sarah Yankoo “is Algonquin, Irish, Hungarian, Romanian and Scottish and edge walks between the bush and the city that gathers in Toronto.” While in York University‘s Environmental Studies program she discovered the poetry of Marvin Francis in a class titled Indigenous Literature, Survival and Sovereignty and for her, the earth moved. Her response was to become one of the tenacious ones who seeks to uncover what some have tried to make us forget. Her photographic work is about creating an image bank demonstrating that in urban spaces a counter-mapping movement is taking place – graffiti tagging, arts activism, and even random formations seem to be giving us a message.
In underpasses, subway stairs and skyscrapers Sarah finds markers that signify we may be at the moment before a seismic shift is about to go down. The ‘Urban Rez’, as Indigenous populations explode, can become a place of renewal and a city, like Toronto / Tkaronto is capable of flexing intuitively – as though it remembers. The shape of the map may not be changing, but the rigid borders of colonial mindsets shift to create a dynamic that will forever change the emotional contours of a city.
Top image of Haida artist Corey Bulpitt’s mural. Bottom image Métis symbol replicates on subway stairs. Both by Sarah Yankoo.
Sarah has also found a way to continue the work that Marvin started by “writing her own treaty poems while exploring the piece [City Treaty] as an installation work and political engagement piece.” For the University of British Columbia’s exhibit Claiming Space: Voices of Aboriginal Youth at the Museum of Anthropology she contributed City Treaty Manuscript. (view City Treaty Manuscript image above)
“Claiming Space: Voices of Urban Aboriginal Youth looks at the diverse ways urban Aboriginal youth are asserting their identity and affirming their relationship to both urban spaces and ancestral territories.” Read more…
KIMIWAN ‘ZINE‘s SIXXX edition featured Sarah’s treaty poem push that bush as well as her work titled your X mark (pictured below)
KIMIWAN ‘ZINE is a quarterly publication that showcases words + art from emerging + established Indigenous, First Nations, Métis, and Inuit writers + artists. Kimiwan is independently published by a collective of Indigenous artists, writers, students + community members.
Kimiwan was started by Joi T. Arcand and Mika Lafond in summer of 2012.”
Top image X marks an urban spot. Bottom image peace and moccasins. Both images by Sarah Yankoo.
The Revolution will be Indigenized.
Marvin, who passed away in 2005, wrote of Toronto:
“Winnipeg, with its high Aboriginal population, is one place where you can walk downtown and meet other Aboriginals. Regina is like that, too, but a city like Calgary or Toronto has few Aboriginals visible downtown.”
In Toronto First Nations, Métis or Inuit populations can become invisible, absorbed into the multicultural mix but as the city becomes more inquisitive about Indigenous histories and contemporary realities after the earth moved during Idle No More, the Toronto of Marvin’s recollection is rapidly changing. A growing Indigenous presence comprised of artists, activists and academics is drafting a new city treaty with their work. This isn’t just taking place behind the institutional walls of universities and museums – their work spills out into the streets.
During the summer of 2013 Ryerson professor Hayden King (Anishinaabe from Beausoleil First Nation on Gchimnissing) along with artist and educator Susan Blight (Anishinaabe from Couchiching First Nation) embarked on an intervention under the name Ogimaa Mikana (Leader’s Trail in Anishinaabemewin). In different locations in downtown Toronto street signs and memorial plaques were subtly counter-mapped by placing Indigenous names and text over the ones put in place by the operating Governments of Canada. Spadina was changed to Ishpadinaa and a plaque was covered at Queen’s Park with the words:
With round dances taking place inside shopping malls and pow wows outside on University campuses even the rhythm of the city has changed.
Sarah also uses music as a way to infuse urban streets with Indigenous vibrations. She makes mouth bows out of branches she searches for when out in the bush. Inspired by the music of Buffy Sainte-Marie as well as A Tribe Called Red she also performs and is often remixing the recordings of her mouth bow on her iPad.
This coming Saturday she will performing alongside Skookum Sound System for Native Women in the Arts Catalyst Series hosted with the BOLD As Love Collective at the Musical Gallery, Toronto. Collectives like BOLD As Love, with their spoken word and musical performances, showcase the plurality of Indigenous voices fleshing out a deeper meaning of diversity.
The words of our lost languages have hidden meaning And while business talks a level playing field Native landscapes can contain asphalt back onto our feet As the land itself invents our soundscape (read Sarah’s full treaty poem Edgewalker Remix below)
Counter-mapping and marking alternate meanings into the urban space becomes a therapeutic act. Time to dig down into the bedrock to excavate those solutions.
We all walk these edges uncertain
On border slippery
Between dirt poor
And filthy rich
Between the bush and city
Between sandy hot beach laughter
& heart breaking tears crying in the snow
We point out the edges that cut off our mind
Invisible borders stronger than barbed wire
Cement our paths to our edge walking ways
To lost children
& a Trail of Beers
When all you really want is to do is just go home
Play in a garden where pedals do not bite
Where the fingers fold in prayer
Where the smile heals eyes
Burnt by too much evening
For the young
& The old experienced love that still dares
The smoke is white and the crackle is electric
So pull your thoughts of others from history into today
And we all emerge from
Actual treaty lines
into the native-aboriginal- First Nation- last chance Indian status- cuz you went
trapping that day universe
The words of our lost languages have hidden meaning
And while business talks a level playing field
Native landscapes can contain asphalt back onto our feet
As the land itself invents our soundscape
What words describe agony of kids torn away
Language ILL legal
Of a circle of a people with their hearts in the fire
spirits in the electric smoke
& Minds in the crackle with knowledge for
To those treaties smouldering and collecting our dust
To loop the difference in times zoned
Flash present to a disguise that fools nobody’s god
Flash back again and again over and under and through the flashing
To the territory as large as the land itself
Reach the borders and the sounds that fit the land contours
And while the rivers wash from the inside and the prairie undulates from the Canadian
Shield up one side of the Rockies and down the Mackenzie. Remember there is no
linear in the bush, and the city only thinks it does. so you can finally figure out that the
land is owned only by our children and never by us
Argue/bitch/question/probe/tear apart/challenge/discuss until everyone is sick of it
Then do it again
For you must remember what the people went through
Above images of Sarah Yankoo by Leah Snyder for Mixed Bag Mag.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Sarah is rocking a jacket by Toronto based Dene designer Sage Paul and boots by Métis owned company Manitobah Mukluks. You can support Indigenous designers by signing a petition against DSquared’s #DSquaw collection from Milan Fashion Week at Change.org. The petition asks that Dan and Dean Caten apologize for their actions and as Canadians donate the profits from their collection to an organization that supports the rights of Indigenous women here in Canada. Click here to sign.
Listen to Sage Paul speak on the issue to Metro Morning’s Matt Galloway here.
“OUR TOXIC ADDICTION IS SLOWING DESTROYING OUR BEAUTIFUL WATERWAYS” GreenPeace
Shop till you drop…dead?
In the aftermath of Boxing Day blowouts it’s a great New Year’s Resolution to take time to consider how fashion impacts the planet.
GreenPeace recently launched the Global Detox Campaign in an effort to inform people on how the garment industry, especially in places like China, is turning “public waterways into private sewers.”
According to GreenPeace 320 million people in China are without access to clean drinking water, 40% of surface water is considered polluted and 20% of the urban drinking water is contaminated.
“BEAUTIFUL FASHION DOESN’T HAVE TO COST THE EARTH” Greenpeace
The campaign sparked an around-the-world protest against companies like Zara, Victoria Secret, the Gap and Adidas some of which have now agreed to “detox”.
These toxins don’t just end up the water. New clothing is often sprayed with formaldehyde to protect against mildew and to keep fabrics wrinkle free. We then absorb the toxins through our largest permeable organ – our skin – via the clothes we wear.
With our purchasing dollars, especially during those Boxing Week Sales, we vote ‘YES’ for the continuation of harmful systems unless we opt to change our habits and the way we engage with mall culture and consumerism.
Necessity (mixed with creativity) is the mother of all invention (and prevention).
One way to change is to rock Second Hand Style.
The gorgeous dancers from JACK YOUR BODY – Emily Law, Kristine Flores, Ashley Perez and Jasmyn Fyffe – demonstrated, on the MIXED BAG MAG #MashUPStyle shoot, how to re-mix used clothing. I met JYB dancer Jasmyn Fyffe, when she modeled at a prior shoot and I was inspired by her ability to take cast offs and make them fresh. Many of us do this out of necessity as a way to save money but as we become more engaged around the issues of environmental protection re-using, up-cycling and swapping become great ways to assert our fashion sense while remaining true to the cause.
On the subject of Second Hand Style, Street Culture and Re-Mixing Emily Law (co-choreographer of JACK YOUR BODY along with Ashley Perez) explains that for the show:
“we attempted to costume each section with vintage clothing as much as possible. The majority of the cast owned a lot of second hand clothing, so it was not that challenging to find great retro pieces. Creating this show gave me a chance to wear some of the retro clothing I have been collecting!
Analogous to using authentic clothing pieces from each era, we used classic ‘vintage songs’ specific to each time period. By creating to these songs we are giving them a second life just like the clothing.”
In Street Culture fashion and music riff off each other in a constant creative conversation. Just like DJs who re-mix retro beats to make them fresh the clothing is also about taking the best of the past and making it stylistically relevant to the present. Perfect timing for a world in need of more sustainability (but sexy) choices!
All above images by Leah Snyder for Mixed Bag Mag.
“Jack Your Body is a high-energy dance performance that pays homage to American street dance culture. The cast poses, struts, waacks and jacks their way through soul train, paradise garage and other iconic street dance scenarios. Issues of race, gender and social status come into focus during this dynamic dance piece that explores the evolution of underground social dances from the 70s-90s.”
There is just too much treasure on tumblr to have just one tumblr blog so Mixed Bag Mag has two with more to come (stay tuned for music mashups with a world beat). For now you can find us on www.mixedbagmag.tumblr.com where we share lush visuals of things like public art, architecture, design, and anything that promotes a new way of seeing things. Since the start of February the focus has been on Contemporary Aboriginal Art by artists like Angela Sterritt.
Also, you can find Mixed Bag Mag on www.mashupstyle.tumblr.com. This space is all about great style that isn’t defined by one set of rules or determined by location.
On both tumblr blogs we curate content for 21st Century Minds because we believe our audience of change agents and cultural provocateurs recognizes that as we layer and blend our diverse narratives we build bridges that close ideological gaps.
FASHIONALITY : Dress & Identity in Contemporary Canadian Art
Feeling like you need to get out of the city even if only for a few hours? Here is your opportunity!
As part of the Planet IndigenUS Festival at Harbourfront a shuttle service is taking off Thursday at 12:30 pm to head up North where the air is fresher, the trees maybe a little greener but style and sophistication will not be lacking at the final destination – The McMichael Canadian Art Collection in Kleinberg, Ontario.
The McMichael is an important Canadian gallery and on until September 3 is an interesting exhibit that takes a look at the assembling of fashion with the visual arts and “what it means to be woven into Canada’s national fabric”.
1. One’s personality expressed in their clothing, “fashion personality.”
2. One’s nationality expressed in their clothing, “fashion nationality.”
– The Urban Dictionary
“Fashionality” is a newly coined term that refers to the visual culture and semiotics of dress and adornment. Combining the words “fashion,” “personality,” and “nationality,” it reflects the interplay between clothing, identity, and culture. The exhibition surrounds this theme, and explores the work of twenty-three contemporary Canadian artists who have employed apparel as a primary medium, subject or sign. Reflecting wide geographic and cultural diversity, it focuses upon the ways in which the concerns, identities, and aesthetics of those living in Canada are expressed, deconstructed, and reconfigured through the idiom of dress.” Read more on the McMichael Gallery website
This particular tour of the exhibit will be from an Aboriginal perspective and will feature discussion around the works of Aboriginal artists featured in the exhibit – Kent Monkman, K C Adams, Lori Blondeau, Dana Claxton and Meryl McMaster.
The Shuttle bus leaves Harbourfront Center at 12:30 pm on Thursday, August 16 and departs from the McMichael at 4pm arriving back in Toronto by approximately 5 pm. More info on the shuttle bus here.
Visit Harbourfront’s website for more on the Planet IndigenUS Festival programming or follow the festival on Facebook and twitter @PlanetIndigenUS