Community members who have passed over the Mercier Bridge in the last few weeks may have spotted some new additions to the structure, in the form of several colourful banners adorned with artworks by artists from Kahnawake, Kanesatake, and Oneida.
Kanehsata’kehró:non Jasmin Gunn and Kaysun Oke both worked on the project, which was a partnership between The Jacques Cartier and Champlain Bridges Incorporated (JCCBI) team and Kanien’kehá:ka Onkwawén:na Raotitióhkwa Language and Cultural Center (KOR).
“This experience has been exciting, it’s like nothing I’ve ever been a part of,” said Oke. “The whole process of just talking about my art, seeing it on the bridge, and having my biography on (the JCCBI) website has been great.”
Oke’s work is called “Unity Turtle” and features a black and white turtle illustration, with thirteen winding trees forming the turtle’s shell. The piece was created with pointillism techniques, each dot painstakingly inked on the paper.
“Within Haudenosaunee culture, we believe all matters are related. When creating the turtle with pointillism technique, unity and connection was the main idea since it is such a strong symbol within our culture,” she said of her piece. “I demonstrated it within its 13 scales, which also represent the moon cycle. Every perfectly placed dot represents a person. The trees and roots signify strength and connection. All together it forms the turtle, our Mother Earth.”
Gunn’s piece, which is in colour, is called “Grasp.” She explained that the image is from the perspective of a salmon, being plucked from the water by a hungry bear. She used realistic colours for the salmon, but selected hues of blue, purple, and turquoise for the bear, which she said makes the bear seem “ethereal and otherworldly,” therefore expressing the “eternal nature of the cycle of life and death.”
“I wanted to put a fish out there as the focal point, and have the bear that is hunting sort of sneak up on you visually,” Gunn said. “Although the original image didn’t start that way. It’s a play of life and death, main characters and background players, and how we all have different perspectives.”
The process of creating the digital illustration was lengthy. Like most of her work, Gunn’s art starts with pencil and paper.
“I then photograph it, and manipulate the image over many hours, and come back to it with new techniques or colour schemes until I am happy with it and it takes a life of its own,” she said.
Oke’s work also starts with pencil and paper – but her piece uses architect ink pens, which have hyper-thin nibs for precision details.
“From there, I go with the flow of the pen. The entire design is made strictly by dots,” she said. “It took extremely long, but it was so rewarding seeing the end result. The texture of the turtle really came through.”
Both artists said that seeing their work in person after starting with a small sketch has been thrilling.
“It’s been an amazing opportunity, and I feel honoured and amazed that this little sketch has evolved its way to waving to commuters every day,” Gunn said.
Art was also designed by Pamela Lynne, Owisokon Lahache, Wakenhiióhstha Montour, Ronwahawihtha Delaronde, Tekaronhienháwi Norton, Lily Ieroniawákon Deer, Megan Kanerahtenhàwi Whyte, Julia Brown, and Jayme Leigh Glen. This week, all the artists gathered in Kahnawake for a meet and greet.
“The meet and greet was nice, I was able to put faces to the art. My favourite part was seeing how supportive everyone was and seeing people I used to go to high school with. I don’t get many opportunities to visit Kahnawake but when I do it’s lovely to reconnect,” Oke said. “I think it’s so crucial that artists, especially Native artists, have support and opportunities to showcase their work, especially in an area where many people pass every day. It’s a great way to promote culture.”
Oke said she’s particularly appreciative of the work by KOR in partnering with JCCBI for the project.
“I really hope there’s more opportunities for artists to showcase their work. It’s amazing that Kahnawake has so many resources and welcomes outside artists from sister communities to participate,” she said. “My community doesn’t have many opportunities to give artists so it’s great to have a place that values art.”
Oke and Gunn’s art is on display on the Mercier Bridge right now, alongside the other nine artists’ work.