Home Arts & Culture From the rapids to the canals

From the rapids to the canals

Mohawk women in a canoe by Towanna Miller. (Photos courtesy Imago Mundi)


Two Kanien’kehá:ka artists from Kahnawake had the opportunity to travel to the city of water to see their work on exhibition during the prestigious Venice Biennial.

“It was an honour to be part of this huge international exhibition of both Indigenous artists and non-Indigenous artists throughout Canada,” said Martin Loft, a printmaker and photographer.

“I was especially pleased because it was held during the Venice Biennale, which is like the Olympics of art and much of the art world looks upon it as the pinnacle of what’s interesting in the field.”

Loft, as well as Mary McComber, attended the opening of ‘Great and North’ last month, an exhibition from Imago Mundi, a non-profit contemporary art project by Italian fashion businessman Luciano Benetton.

Creation by Mary McComber.
Creation by Mary McComber.

Artists from all over the world, established names and emerging talents, have taken up the challenge of creating work on a 10×12 cm canvas. To date, more than 20,000 artists representing over 130 countries, regions and peoples have become involved in the project, a number that will reach 26,000 by the end of 2017.

Over 800 of the artworks are exhibited in “Great and North” to give shape to the contemporary creativity of Central-Eastern Canada, Western Canada, and Indigenous artists in the exhibition, which is on show at Palazzo Loredan in Venice until October 29.

“Contemporary Native Art is undergoing a renaissance due to a variety of young, emerging artists who are using innovative methods and modern technology to create work that, while rooted in the past, is entrenched firmly and quite comfortably in the here and now,” said curator Jennifer Karch Verzè.

Work was submitted by a diverse amount of artists, including painters, sculptors, engravers, designers, architects, photographers, writers, and musicians using various mediums from oils and acrylics to seal skin and soap stone on the small canvases.

Loft titled his work “Song for Grandmother Moon.”

Song for Grandmother’s Moon by Martin Loft.
Song for Grandmother Moon by Martin Loft.

“My artwork strives to reflect our history and culture in a creative and dynamic way, incorporating Onkwehón:we symbolism, metaphor and oral history. I often hand draw my pieces with printmaking in mind,” he said.

“For the piece I entered in the exhibition, I produced a hand-drawn portrait of a water-drum, which I then carved onto a linoleum block and printed on an etching press. Afterwards, I used water colour to give it vibrancy.”

McComber’s work is called “Creation” and is an abstract acrylic painting inspired by the creation story.

“Usually my paintings are inspired by Tsi Niionkwarihò:tens – our ways or legends. When I used to paint a lot, a lot of my ideas came from dreams and linked to creation stories or different kind of stories from Kanien’kehá:ka that I’ve heard of,” said McComber.

Moose Flower by Barbara Little-Bear.
Moose Flower by Barbara Little-Bear.

She said the opportunity to be in Venice was surreal.

“It’s pretty big. I didn’t even realize how big the exhibition is, but it’s a huge deal in Italy,” said McComber. “I was just walking around at the larger shows but they have artists from all over the world and huge names in the art world – people that I’ve studied when I was in art school. To know that I was in the same area at the same time is kind of amazing.”

Although only Loft and McComber were in Venice for the opening on August 29, the exhibition also includes work by Kahnawa’kehró:non Owisokon Lahache, Kashennoktha Deer, Peter Horne Sarabella, Tioteroken Andrew Delisle, Towanna Miller and the late Barbara Little-Bear.

She lives her culture by Owisokon Lahache.
She lives her culture by Owisokon Lahache.

“When I was asked to submit a piece for this show, I thought about how it was very important for me to show the viewers that our children are an integral part of who we are and the knowledge we pass on to the future generations,” said Lahache.

“I decided to paint in the old European masters mediums and used ground oil pigments on wood. I really liked the end result, which gave the finished art a richer depth of colour with more luminosity.”

As an artist, Lahache has travelled across the world to places such as Brazil, Belgium, China, Paris and Mexico.

“I would definitely do more pieces like this in the future. My intention is to continue to develop a larger international audience and to have my art images teach about our rich culture,” said Lahache.

All of the work can be viewed online at Imago Mundi’s website.

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Jessica Deer was a staff reporter from 2015-2018 who started out in 2008 as a summer student.