My piece titled, Grandma, is part of a larger body of work titled, Return. This piece embraces the two inspirations in my life – family and culture. It grew from my desire to more fully explore my identity as an urban First Nation person while expressing the pride I feel being a Dene woman. I demonstrate my pride by paying respect to someone very special who has inspired and guided my life. Grandma speaks to the continuation of culture and spirit.
Exploring my cultural identity was initially where this body of work stemmed from and was not an easy topic for me to explore. I had to return to memories of my early childhood in order to fully understand the source of my anxiety. I was four years old when my family moved from Patuanak, a reserve in northern Saskatchewan, to the small rural farming community of Choiceland in eastern Saskatchewan. For me, only a handful of visits were made back to the reserve to visit relatives, to attend funerals and to present me with another opportunity to feel completely out of place. Because I spent only the first few years of my childhood on the reserve, I didn’t learn the Dene language and I didn’t receive the same opportunities to build relationships with family that my older siblings did. This disconnect between culture and identity was at the root of my anxiety as I explored this part of my identity.
Emerging from my desire to belong, I have grown to realize the amazing opportunities that can present themselves if one is open to welcoming the unfamiliar. I strive to rediscover cultural richness through my own interpretations of cultural identity. In this place, I feel comfortable with my urban experience and my identity as a Dene woman. I hope to encourage dialogue between traditional art forms and new interpretations of them. I was strongly influenced by beadwork patterns on traditional Dene clothing. I am reinterpreting these patterns and reintroducing them through floral painted patterns on canvas.
In this piece, I use my feelings as a way to encourage the viewer to question their own assumptions regarding Aboriginal culture and experience. This project is meant to reflect on the assumptions of what it is to be Aboriginal and, on a personal level, it celebrates my experience and my identity as a Dene person.