Primary Colours

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Hustle & Bustle/ Downriver House (2016) by Bruno Canadien created during an Indigenous Visual & Digital Arts Residency.

This article originally appeared in the 2018-19 issue of Buffalo Mountain Drum magazine. Pick up a copy on campus. 

I am an artist, curator, and researcher of Kanien’keha:ka and French ancestry. I was born on Algonquin territory in Québec. For the past 17 years I have worked and lived with my family on beautiful, unceded Lekwungen and WSÁNEĆ territory on Vancouver Island.

I stand on the shoulders of strong Indigenous artists, mentors, and Elders. I am humbled by their generosity and support. They have taught me the importance of listening carefully, of nurturing relationships, and of honouring Indigenous worldviews and ways of being.

My work is guided by principles of respect, relevance, relationality, responsibility, and reciprocity, as developed by Indigenous scholars Linda Tuhiwai Smith and Shawn Wilson. I have come to realize that my artistic and curatorial practices are often informed by my role as a ‘passeur’. I bring people from one side of the river to the other side and while there, bring other folks back to the first side. It is modest translation work: interpreting concepts, languages, and worldviews.

I am profoundly convinced of the criticality of the work done by Indigenous artists. They are involved in preserving traditional knowledge, while creating new artworks that respond to the world we live in today. Indigenous art practices are profoundly
connected to the land. They inform us of where we have been, of where we are, of where we are going. They ground us. Indigenous arts are unique to this land. They exist nowhere else. This is their homeland.

The Canadian art system was built on two faulty assumptions: the first one is that Indigenous cultures were intrinsically inferior and vanishing; the second is that European art was superior and represented ‘real’ art. For the past 50 years, the art system has overwhelmingly supported these European art forms to the detriment of Indigenous art. I have devoted a significant part of my professional life to transform this situation, by challenging Eurocentric supremacy and by actively supporting Indigenous artists in the creation and presentation of their work.

My governance work is also in service of this vision. I have served and still serve on a number of boards and advisory bodies, such as the Indigenous Program Council at Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity, the OCADU Aboriginal Education Council, the Aboriginal Curatorial Collective, and the National Aboriginal Network of Arts Administrators.

I am currently co-director, with Chris Creighton-Kelly, of PrimaryColours/Couleurs primaires, a three-year initiative that seeks to place Indigenous arts at the centre of the Canadian art system. It also asserts that art practices by people of colour play a critical role in imagining Canada’s future(s).

My creative work is multifaceted — as an artist, curator, teacher, writer, and mentor. This work is located in the space between artists, communities, and institutions. This is a complex, challenging yet fertile area where change can be manifest. I hope to
engage each member of my various audiences so that they can experience the mystery, the depth and the imaginative vision of Indigenous artists.

Primary Colours/Couleurs primaires continues its evolution with a residency at Banff Centre in summer 2018, where France and Chris, co-authors of Understanding Aboriginal Arts in Canada Today: A Knowledge and Literature Review, will deepen the conversations started during their initial gathering in September 2017.