Earlier this past year OCAD University teamed up with the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, New Mexico, USA, and, with the support of the U.S. Embassy in Ottawa created ‘We Are All Related’, a calendar featuring artwork by students and recent graduates of the two schools involved in the project. Recently we took some time to catch up with two of the artists who were involved in the making of We Are All Related, Violet Chum and Patrick DeCoste.
SITE-SPECIFIC: In your view, why is the ‘We Are All Related’ Calendar project important?
VIOLET CHUM: The ‘We Are All Related’ Calendar project is important because it unites artists collectively, especially for Indigenous artists. Our art work communicates with one another to bring an understanding of our own personal and political views within the world. Each artist expresses their own view of their culture creatively through various mediums of art and because of this, it establishes a form of connection. It was great meeting some of the artists in person from Santa Fe, New Mexico.
PATRICK DECOSTE: The ‘We Are All Related’ Calendar project is important to me because it connects my Nova Scotia Métis heritage to a larger North American community of indigenous artists. Bonnie Devine (Anishinaabe, Serpent River First Nations) taught me in her Indigenous Cultural Studies class in the OCAD U MFA Program of the importance of land. Naming your people and where you are from ‒ where you live ‒ is not simply a cultural act, but also a political act. Colonizers (especially the Government of Canada) have been taking land from First Nations People since Jacques Cartier staked a holy cross in the soil of the ‘New World’ in 1534 to the dismay of Iroquois chief Donnacona. This practice continues today, especially when resources like oil and lumber are concerned. ‘We Are All Related’ is a reminder that indigenous people still live all across this land. The calendar can foster dialogue so that we indigenous and non-indigenous people alike, can better understand each other, regardless of where we come from or who we are related to.
[image description: painting looking upwards at the blue sky through the top of an also blue teepee and its supporting poles]
S: Tell us about your piece and some of the themes or issues you explore though it.
C: My art work in the ‘We Are All Related’ Calendar project, Home Sweet Home, and Sliding Party explore the themes nature and lifestyle. By exploring this, it was my intention to portray the feeling of warmth through the surrounding of nature and family. Home Sweet Home invites the viewer to take a look of nature through a warmth setting of the light beaming on the teepee poles and the light blue sky. The many shades and tones of blue in the Sliding Party offer a more airy, cool atmosphere, and a sense of warmth through the family who are enjoying the winter wonderland.
D: ‘Wolervine Map’ 2013, acrylic and thread on wolverine skin, 36 x 48 inches. The piece is created on a wolverine skin with acrylic paint and red thread. It connects to the fur trade and is based on the maps of explorer Champlain during his visits to Canada in the early 1600s. The piece is a self-portrait, tracing my movements, similar to Champlain’s, from where I was born in Antigonish Nova Scotia to where I currently live in Toronto and Georgian Bay. Early colonial movements in Canada, while destructive then and now, also populated the country with mixed blood people, and in my Métis case, French and Mi’kmaq.
[image description: painting of a map of southeastern Canada on a wolverine’s hide; with red thread tracing a pattern of travel]
S: How did the ‘We Are All Related’ Calendar embody some of the cultural or creative shifts you would like to see as an artist/designer?
C: The ‘We Are All Related’ Calendar project embodies some of the cultural and creative shifts, which I feel is important as an artist/designer because it can be quite effective to visually show the viewer our own perception of cultural aspects within our lives and being aware of how to explore this creatively, pushing beyond our own comfortable zone.
[image description: painting of a family in winter coats on a snow-covered hill overlooking a snow-covered landscape. There are adults and very young children; some people are sledding, others simply watch.]
S: What is the role of creativity in advancing equity?
C: The role of creativity in advancing equity can come from different aspects such as, processing and movement. Artists can be inspired by everyday things, whether if it comes from their own personal experiences or from news around the world that may hit close to home. There is always processing, which generates into ideas before becoming some sort of movement, creatively, shown through painting, sculpting, photography, film and media.
D: Creativity’s role in the advancement of equity is connected to the expression of the self. If you don’t speak up, who will listen, who will care? Creativity does not guarantee equity (being treated fairly or equally) but it is a step toward making your voice heard. When your voice is heard, people listen, which can foster dialogue, and the possibility of equity.
[image description: painting of a family in winter coats in the foreground of a snow-covered landscape. Young children are on sleds while the adults stand around; everyone is interacting and there is a sense of connectedness.]
About Violet Chum:
Violet Chum is a Moose Cree First Nation member from Moose Factory Island, Ontario. She graduated with a BFA from the Drawing & Painting program at OCAD U in 2011. She also has a BA from the Indigenous Learning program at Lakehead University. Her work reflects the nature and lifestyle of family and friends in the northern and cultural environment of her hometown.
[image description: photograph of Violet Chum]
About Patrick DeCoste:
Patrick DeCoste is an MFA student in the OCAD U Interdisciplinary Art, Media, and Design program with a concentration in figurative painting. His studio practice is informed by stories of first contact between Europeans and Indigenous peoples. In particular, he examines the collision of Mi’kmaq and French culture in Nova Scotia as a means of exploring colonialism and his own Métis origins.
[image description: portrait of Patrick DeCoste, painted in sepia tones ]