The Power of Creative Expression

    Three artists reflect on their work related to truth and reconciliation

    By Stephanie Bailey, '10 BA(Hons) on May 24, 2017

    In its journey across the country speaking to residential school survivors and other Canadians, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission recognized the power of creative expression as an essential part of reconciliation.

    The arts help bridge cultural divides, opening new avenues for learning about our shared histories, responsibilities and visions of the future. They provide a platform for alternative voices to challenge the settler-dominated telling of Canada’s history and its present reality. And the arts can be healing and transformative — for both Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples — by giving voice to unspeakable truths.

    “The arts have opened up new and critical space for survivors, artists, curators and public audiences to explore the complexities of truth, healing and reconciliation,” the TRC report noted.


    Lana Whiskeyjack

    About the Artist

    Lana Whiskeyjack is a multidisciplinary Cree artist from Saddle Lake Cree Nation in northeastern Alberta. Among her early influences were her mother’s creative skills in traditional arts and her grandmother’s gifts in quilting and song. Whiskeyjack studied visual arts at Red Deer College and the U of A, and environmental sculpture at Pont-Aven School of Contemporary Art in France. She has a BA and MA from Carleton University. She is now reprogramming her brain and filling her spirit by completing her PhD, combining academic and artistic skills at the University nuhelot’įne thaiyots’į nistameyimâkanak Blue Quills, a former residential school attended by her mother and grandmother. Whiskeyjack works in the U of A Faculty of Extension as an Indigenous visual arts scholar.

    Title of work

    Exploring Intergenerational Trauma Series, No.1

    Acrylic on canvas, 2015

    In the Artist's Words

    “I began this series after a very challenging time in my life, when I realized how much the intergenerational trauma of Indian residential schools affected me and my relations. This trauma ruptured my inherent strength and my connection to the wombs I came from. When I feel stuck in those dark moments, I go to my ceremony of creating. I smudge, pray, pick up a paintbrush and transform my pain into a teaching. Each painting in the series represents a connection of a grandmother, mother and daughter. This painting represents the connection of my grandmother, mother and me, as I need to see them — blanketed by love, security and strength in spite of the trauma of residential schools. During the process of creating this series, my vision changed from one of trauma to resilience, with the final painting of me as a grandmother with my daughter and granddaughter.”

     

    “Art is language that carries spirit. I want to speak my truth, To educate, to create dialogue and to share good medicine.”
    Lana Whiskeyjack


    Jane Ash Poitras

    About the Artist

    Jane Ash Poitras, ’77 BSc(Spec), ’83 BFA, ’15 DLitt (Honorary), is a painter, printmaker, lecturer and writer of Cree descent. Born in Fort Chipewyan, Alta., she was orphaned at age six when her mother died of tuberculosis. She spent time in foster homes before being raised by a woman in Edmonton. After completing an MFA at Columbia University, Poitras went on to influence the development of a new visual vocabulary for First Nations perspectives in contemporary art. Her unique style combines postmodern art-making techniques — like collage and found objects — with a deep commitment to the politics and issues common to Indigenous peoples. She was a sessional lecturer in the Faculty of Native Studies for more than 20 years and has lectured extensively internationally.

    Title of work

    Potato Peeling 101 to Ethnobotany 101

    Mixed media on canvas, 2004

    Jane Ash Poitras

    In the Artist's Words

    “Residential schools were designed to assimilate Indigenous peoples, taking them from their families and denying their language and culture. They were treated not as equals, but as secondary citizens, trained to be kitchen help and farm workers. This strategy rejected the rich history, knowledge and wisdom they had to offer. It is satisfying that their valuable contributions, which were denied by systematic assimilation, are now at the forefront of many scientific fields. Indigenous people are now taking leading roles in the evolution of ethnobotany, environmentalism and the inclusion of traditional healing in modern medicine, among others.” [Two panels of this large-scale work, 25 feet x 9 feet, graphically contrast the history of forced assimilation, on the left, with the academic and professional achievements of Indigenous peoples today, on the right.]

    “I think that the role of an artist today is to become free, to transcend. Then they can transform, enlighten and become empowered.”
    Jane Ash Poitras


    David Garneau

    About the Artist

    David Garneau is a descendent of Métis activist and homesteader Laurent Garneau, who used to own part of the land where North Campus now sits. Born and raised in Edmonton, Garneau received a BFA in painting and drawing and an MA in English literature from the University of Calgary. He taught at the Alberta College of Art and Design (1994-99) and is now associate professor of visual arts at the University of Regina. Garneau is interested in creative expressions of contemporary Indigenous identities and moments of productive friction between nature and culture, materialism and metaphysics. He is currently working on a public art project for the Tawatinâ Bridge, part of a new LRT line in Edmonton.

    Title of work

    Not to Confuse Politeness with Agreement

    Oil on canvas, 2013

    David Garneau

    In the Artist's Words

    “This painting is based on a popular postcard from the 1950s. The photographer is W.J.L. Gibbons of Calgary and the image features an unknown young Mountie and Ubi-thka Iyodage (1874-1970), also known as Chief Sitting Eagle or John Hunter, who was a prominent leader of the Chiniki band of Stoney Nakoda people of southwestern Alberta. I reversed the image to suggest some irony (the men are now shaking their left hands). I wanted not simply to reproduce the image but re-present it. The image is of an “Indian” and a representative of the state’s power. I suppose the intention of the original image was to show the old giving way to the new country, but the young man (who isn’t given a name) is clearly out of his league. I repurposed the image to suggest two very different ways of thinking and seeing the world.”

    “Art moves us but does not necessarily move us to action. … it changes our individual and collective imaginaries by particles, and these new pictures of the world can influence behaviour.”
    David Garneau