Canadian Art - - Reviews -

I met Anishi­naabe street artist, pain­ter and il­lus­tra­tor Nancy King, given the name Ogimaakwebnes (Chief Lady Bird) in cer­e­mony, at a cof­fee shop with walls that were painted en­tirely white. There we sat: two In­dige­nous women— street artists and com­mu­nity ac­tivists who work against colo­nial dom­i­na­tion— talk­ing to­gether in a place lit­er­ally coated in white paint. It was per­fect.

The power of street art lies in its abil­ity to grap­ple with dif­fi­cult and of­ten un­der­rep­re­sented nar­ra­tives in un­ex­pected spa­ces. As In­dige­nous street artists, in our own ways we find the roots that bring to­gether com­mu­ni­ties. When the walls of our cities do not speak to the com­mu­ni­ties and iden­ti­ties we have come to un­der­stand, how does this per­pet­u­ate on­go­ing so­cial, po­lit­i­cal and racial vi­o­lence? Where do we vi­su­al­ize love? How does the vis­i­bil­ity of that love give back to the com­mu­nity?

Chief Lady Bird’s murals, found around Toronto and in sev­eral schools across On­tario, take on the bur­dens that many In­dige­nous peo­ples carry. She works fear­lessly to make these nar­ra­tives pub­licly vis­i­ble. “Us First Na­tions women, just walk­ing down the street, wear all this shit on our shoul­ders, car­ry­ing a heavy bur­den ev­ery day,” she told me. “Then we’re not prop­erly rep­re­sented when we’re out there? We have racism, sex­ism, that is con­stantly cir­cu­lat­ing all around. When we’re not rep­re­sented it doesn’t feel like we’re on our land. I’m here to stop that.” She told me many sto­ries about how her work as a street artist be­gan and about some of the com­mu­nity-based mu­ral projects she has done with youth. Her sto­ries made ev­i­dent the in­evitable emo­tional strain in­volved in do­ing this nec­es­sary de­colo­nial work. In cre­at­ing the many col­lab­o­ra­tive murals Chief Lady Bird has done with youth in schools, the method­ol­ogy her work em­bod­ies will of­ten go through in­ten­sive sto­ry­telling and dis­cus­sion pro­cesses. Through her im­agery, his­to­ries and sto­ries, she con­fronts trau­matic colo­nial per­pet­u­a­tions head on, gen­tly yet fiercely. In do­ing this emo­tional labour, she puts her­self on the de­colo­nial front line, in­vest­ing through artis­tic prac­tice in acts of love, so that future gen­er­a­tions can ap­proach top­ics of race openly and with more care.

Chief Lady Bird vi­su­al­izes love through ded­i­cat­ing her pas­sion and tal­ent to pub­licly call­ing to ac­tion, and by en­gag­ing his­to­ries, di­verse knowl­edges and con­nec­tiv­ity through sto­ries. We of­ten hide the trauma that we hold, that In­dige­nous peo­ples fight ev­ery day, to this day. Play­fully wind­ing through Toronto walls, Chief Lady Bird’s colour­ful wisps of spray paint are speak­ing to a telling of a story where we might be be­gin­ning to see a pub­lic vi­su­al­iza­tion of de­colo­nial prac­tice. It is through the thought and emo­tion put into each of her murals that we be­gin to see pow­er­ful In­dige­nous women, the voices of youth and our in­evitable col­lec­tiv­ity be­com­ing vis­i­ble. —CAMILLE GEORGESON-USHER

Chief Lady Bird, Aura, Chippe­war and Evan Lovett Creators Game (de­tail) 2016 Spray paint on ce­ment 1.8 x 27.4 m

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