Navigating the Waters of Indigenous Art
In the fall of 2020, the FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre presented a virtual workshop series called Navigating the Waters of Indigenous Art with three accomplished Niagara artists Clayton Samuel King, Brian Kon and Jill Lunn. Each artist conducted virtual workshops for a total of over 3000 students and community members where they shared their art practise and provided their unique and personal perspectives on caring for Turtle Island. As part of this project, the FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre commissioned work from each of the artists as reflections on their experiences and teachings.
Clayton Samuel King
Mide Wabo, 2021
Acrylic on canvas
16.25 in x 20 in
Born and raised in St. Catharines, Clayton currently lives in Barrie, ON. A graduate of Fine Arts from Fanshawe College in London, ON, Clayton works predominantly with acrylics, but occasionally works with other mediums like photography, sculpture, graphite, ink, and traditional First Nations crafts. Clayton has displayed his art in six solo exhibitions, forty-two selected group exhibition and is the owner of his own art studio, “White Bear Art”. Clayton works with schools across Ontario by offering cultural interpretive workshops that help bridge an understanding of First Na3ons art and history. Clayton is of Bodwewadomi descent and is a member of Beausoleil First Nation in Georgian Bay.
Acrylic on canvas
24 in x 36 in
Born in the heart of the Métis Homeland (Winnipeg, Manitoba) Brian moved to Niagara Falls, ON in 1996, where he continues to live today as an active member of Niagara’s Indigenous community. Brian’s art pays homage to his Cree/Métis ancestors through his paintings. He is best known for a style of art known as Dot Art – representing the beadwork for which the Métis people were known. Brian uses his art as a platform for telling the story of Métis people, but also to draw attention to important issues that face Indigenous people – Indian Residential Schools, Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women, and Two Spirited.
The painting reflects the Cree Creation Story of Turtle Island. The three lily pads represent the loon, beaver and muskrat. Soil placed on the back of the turtle became Turtle Island (North America).
Acrylic on canvas
36 in x 24 in
JILL LUNN, Giinew Kwe (Ojibway, Eagle Clan) has instructed in many art mediums by her adoptive mother, the late, but well-known Niagara Artist, Audrey Bernice Shimizu, Jill Lunn paints about trauma, healing, Indigenous issues and about her personal history as a survivor of the 60’s scoop and child abuse. Trained in visual arts and music from an early age, Jill is a multi-talented artist. She is a painter, photographer, pianist and violinist. While her favorite medium is acrylic paint on canvas, Jill lets her artistic expressions emerge through sculpture, multi-media collage and photography. Jill’s original pieces hang in private collections across Canada, as well as in agencies and businesses within the Niagara, London and Hamilton Regions.
The dress honours the missing and murdered children and women. The children of the Mush Hole, the Mohawk Indian residential school, who never came home. It honours the spirit of my late biological father (Fred King) whose life was forever changed, when he was taken there. He never recovered from his experiences there.
The people of Canada, hang red dresses and orange shirts from crosses to bring awareness to the issues of the Residential School children who were murdered and are now being recovered and reclaimed. The garments on those crosses across the country, bring awareness to honour the the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women. #MMIWG. The garments are risen above both hidden and uncovered graves to pronounce the dignity of those who once were cruelly disposed of. They also represent those who are still waiting for and deserving of uncovering and justice.
The bricks in the dress, clearly depict the brick walls of the Mush hole, they honour my ancestors. The red honours the MMIW as well as the red dress.
The cracking throughout the piece represents the fractured truth and uncovering of the real history as it rises, fracturing the understanding that Canadians were taught about their history.
The yellow wheats in the fairgrounds offer recognition to the children of the Prairies. The backwards words in the grave tell use how Indigenous children were lied to about their ways being wicked, acknowledging how wickedly they were treated by those same people. The backwards word of trust acknowledges how our trust was broken, and how some people who survived may never trust again… and of course how our trust was turned against us or exploited. The word skeleton refers to the skeletons in the closets of the church and governments… and the pile of skulls to the left of the painting tell us that there are so many who will never be found, and secrets that may never be revealed to the public but known to the communities.
The blue flowers are the forefront, showing us how pretty the window dressings of the dark truth can be. You can put them upfront, but the pretty flowers don’t hide the dark truth… they also balance the painting, using the blue of the sky
The Red handprint acknowledges the 215 children of Kamloops, who’s message brought rise to the national acknowledgement of the Residential School’s missing children and legitimized beyond any doubts that the schools were death camps for generations of children. The handprint also acknowledges the children of the Millennium scoop as does the crown of thorns.
The crown of thorns brings the message of responsibility of the Church, Children’s Aid society, since it is offset. The gold of the crown honours the complicated knot of the millennium scoop and honours the spirits of the children in care right now, they are not forgotten either, we see them.
In behind it all, are letters and numbers, depicted in the sky but intended to begin layers… over years and Years of meaningless education … and the misuse of education as the intention.
The lines in the 3rd foreground speak to the education that the children did receive at the school, farming, child labor. Many of those “graduates” knew how to work on the farms, they did migrant farm work in Jordan Ontario, to work the farms in the neighbourhood where I now live… it is long forgotten, that Niagara’s farms were worked and built upon the backs of the grown-up children, people like my bio father and Intergenerational survivors like my biological mother Rev. Marita Johnson. The hills honour the working of the fields and orchards.
The grandmother moon rises and carries hope for the healing of the future. She watched over thousands of children, for over 160 years. She knows, she knows where the MMIW are… she knows where all the children are. She knows where we are going and knows how we will heal. She is the grandmother to all those who do not know their grandmothers, like me. The moon also represents the waters in Niagara, the cycles of the women and our connection to the past. The yellow in the dress represents and acknowledges the truth, and represents the traditions of the people, the pow wow dancers and the resiliency of the language speakers.
Lastly, the wind of change is gently blowing the skirt but does not move the rising of the truth. The dots representing the binary language of technology again, nothing overshadowing the rise of the Indigenous truth.
I have a lot more to say about this painting, as its work has healed me so much, helped me connect with my ancestors and in particular my biological parents and my father’s story. I did not know him very well in life, the rise and uncovering of this truth, has changed history, and will continue to do so, for many years to come.