An art exhibit at Dawson College celebrates Skén:nen and the school’s proud tradition of Onkwehónwe artists past and present, including several alumni from Kahnawake. (Courtesy Martin Loft)
A new exhibition, Skén:nen, is helping spread the message of peace and decolonization throughout Dawson College’s student body.
The exhibition, which opened last night at the Warren G. Flowers Art Gallery, features over two-dozen works by Indigenous artists across Canada.
“We wanted artists to be able to present work that fell into that as a very broad topic in how one interprets peace and how one interprets decolonization,” said co-curator and organizer Orenda Boucher-Curotte.
“Every person is different, so we were looking for stuff that really challenged our idea of what contemporary Indigenous art is.”
Boucher-Curotte has been the coordinator of the college’s new First Peoples Centre. Since taking on the position in February, she said she’s wanted to find a way to bring Indigenous art into the classroom.
The exhibition also falls in line with the college’s work toward honouring the calls to action set out by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
“I thought this was the perfect opportunity to be able to do that,” said Boucher-Curotte.
The artists showcasing their work include musical icon Buffy Sainte Marie, Barry Ace, Leanne Simpson, Hannah Claus as well as several students and alumni from Kahnawake.
“I think the fact that Dawson is interested in exploring more and having more of a presence and community for their First Nations students is really important. I think it’s great that the students have a place for them and can have their culture more visible and understood,” said Claus.
She has a new video production that will be on display that incorporates the everlasting tree wampum belt and images of white pine branches.
“It’s something I’ve had in my head for awhile,” said Claus. “I work with the concept of wampum belts in my work – but it’s the first time I’ve actually integrated a representation of a real wampum belt. I love that everlasting tree belt that’s got the growing tree of peace that keeps going and wanted to do something with it, and it’s become this video.”
Martin Loft’s serigraph print titled “Skén:nen, Peace, Paix” is one of the many works created by Kahnawa’kehró:non.
“I happened to have a piece that I worked on speaking about the same notions of peace, thinking about skén:nen, thinking about things that are important to us as Onkwehón:we: peace, power and righteousness,” said Loft, an alumnus of Dawson.
“With all the stuff going on in the world right now, in Indian Country and in the bigger wider world, we face a barrage of issues on a personal level, on a philosophical level, on Indigenous rights-level. I think everybody wants to find that balance. The way I look at art is the stuff that is important to us, that floats in and out of consciousness as Native people.”
Dawson student Wakenhnhiióhstha Montour is excited to be a part of the exhibition, as well as others coordinated by the First Peoples’ Centre.
“I got to make the logo for the centre last year and I got to help out in a few volunteer activities. It makes me feel needed and wanted in my school and in the art community when I’m asked to do things like this,” she said.
Montour has a number of paintings and drawings in the exhibition.
“I wanted to incorporate some new ones from school because it shows the types of works that I’m currently doing,” said Montour, who is in first semester of the visual arts program.
“Creating art was something I always done my whole life and never stopped or lost interest, so I figured if I’m good at it and I love it, I might as well continue and improve my skills so that I can continue doing what makes me happy.”
Skén:nen will run until November 24, and will include a number of activities throughout the month, including a workshop on mask making with Lauren McComber, storytelling with Darren Bonaparte and Leanne Betasamosake Simpson, as well as a roundtable discussion.
The discussion, titled Silence in our Museums: Indigenous Art, Curation and Identity, takes place on Thursday afternoon from 2-4 p.m. with Wanda Nanibush, Nadine St. Louis, Dayna Danger, Melissa Mollen-Dupuis and Stephan Puskas.