OGIMAAKWEBNES (CHIEF LADY BIRD)/NANCY KING
STREETS AND SCHOOLS, ONTARIO
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