Back for a third time, Martin Akwiranoron Loft will attend the annual International First Peoples’ Festival – also known as Presence Autochtone – as an artist in residence where he’ll be set up with his pop-up photo studio, screen print station, and photo exhibition.
“I’m honoured to be back,” he said.
For the 33rd edition of the festival, running from August 8-17, his contribution consists of a portrait series of urban Natives and local people from Kahnawake in keeping with the festival’s goal of emphasizing Indigenous presence.
The idea of this project dates back to Loft’s years as a student, where he put together a series of dozens of portraits of Indigenous faces in and around Montreal. The collection travelled through the country and went on to New York, among other places in the US.
For the past year or longer, he compiled a similar collection of about 60 photographs – in his signature black-and-white style – of people from various nations across Quebec, Ontario, and even some from the US who now live in Montreal to highlight the social fabric of Indigenous communities across the city.
“Portraits, it’s kind of like a way to communicate with our present, but also our past, and then to project it into the future. In my mind, that’s what it’s about. I tried to reveal a kind of a soulful impression of our people,” he said.
A selection of up to 10 will be exhibited as a series of murals along Ste. Catherine Street, coupled with a slide projection in the evenings on the wall of the Cœur des sciences at the Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM).
“You have to see the works: they’re beautiful, they’re moving, they’re touching, they speak volumes,” said André Dudemaine, artistic director of the festival.
To him, Loft’s body of work represents a family portrait of community and history. “These portraits are absolutely magnificent and constitute a kind of photographic archive of Montreal’s Indigenous landscape,” said Dudemaine.
Dudemaine and Loft’s ties go back decades to when Loft used to work at the Kanien’kehá:ka Onkwawén:na Raotitióhkwa Language and Cultural Center (KOR). Over the years, Dudemaine has sought the community’s involvement for the festival and the two have worked together to bring out the best of what Kahnawake has to offer.
“I totally believe in his mission and the kinds of things that he’s doing and the way he’s been able to raise the profile of the Indigenous community and in this area,” Loft said, adding he’s noticed a resurgence of Indigenous artists making their mark in the city and internationally too over the past few years.
“I’m glad to be able to lend any support I can to his cause,” he said.
New this year for the festival is an element that’s been in the pipeline for years: an exterior fire.
“It gives an even more apparent, an even more vibrant soul to the premises,” said Dudemaine, acknowledging its particular importance for Indigenous gatherings.
Loft will be on site from August 10-13 where he’ll be able to take portraits of festival goers and passersby, which Dudemaine believes adds another dimension to the exhibit.
This article was originally published in print on Friday, July 21, in issue 32.29 of The Eastern Door.