A Celebration of Indigenous Arts and Culture is launching in St. John’s this month, with two weeks of workshops, discussions, performances and exhibitions.
Organized by Eastern Edge Gallery in collaboration with a number of community partners, the new festival will showcase the traditional and contemporary artistic and cultural practices of Mi’kmaq peoples of Newfoundland and Labrador, as well as Inuit, Innu, Southern Inuit of Nunatukavut, and Beothuk peoples.
“The festival is a celebration of all the things these various groups have contributed to our culture. Newfoundland and Labrador is not homogenous, it has never been homogenous,” said Megan Coles, Identify’s Project Manager, “…all this artistic practice informs who we are as Newfoundlanders and Labradorians.”
As part of the festival, curator Jerry Evans will be removing colonial art from Government House and replacing it with work by Indigenous artists from all over the province. The exhibition, titled Reclamation, will hang in Government House for the entire month of April. On the final two days of the festival, Evans and Coles will offer the public tours of the installation.
“We’re really pleased that Government House was so enthusiastic about the proposal because it’s something unheard of in Newfoundland and Labrador,” Coles said. “I think it’s the kind of innovative partnership that makes us reconsider how we use our spaces, who owns our spaces, and how we can move forward together inside of that spatial ownership.”
The festival has also partnered with the City of St. John’s to commission a series of murals from multidisciplinary Mi’kmaq artist Jordan Bennett. As a piece of site-specific, public art this work will also provoke reflection about the role of art in public space.
In addition to a number of other visual art exhibitions, the Festival will also feature the work of Indigenous artists working in dance, film, theatre, textiles, and music. As well as several interactive, Indigenous-led workshops and public discussions.
“Priority registration will be given to people who self-identify as Indigenous but everyone is welcome to participate in any of the workshops and panels,” Coles said. “It’s important that everybody be represented so that we can have a substantial conversation.”
Coles says Identify’s steering committee hopes the festival will become an annual event, facilitated by representatives of Newfoundland and Labrador’s Indigenous communities with events happening across the province.
“I don’t know how to do the things my nan does, nan can skin a rabbit on the white linoleum floor and not spill a drop — I wouldn’t even really know where to start. That’s a loss of knowledge,” Coles said.
“There’s so much fabulous work and also skills that are very nearly lost. If we’re not more proactive in retaining those skills and celebrating that work, I’m worried that we’ll see a loss of knowledge.”
The festival has hired photographer Jennie Williams to document this year’s Identify. At the end of 2018, her photographs of the festival, along with work by other artists featured at the festival, will be compiled into a publication.
For Coles, this is an important aspect of the Festival because it will recognize the importance of the art the festival’s participants are creating, and will make it possible to share their work more widely.
Identify: A Celebration of Indigenous Arts and Culture will run from April 8th – 22nd in St. John’s. For more information about programming visit : easternedge.ca/identify