Serpent River First Nation installation artist Bonnie Devine shared her perspective on Indigenous arts at the May 14 Gathering of Indigenous Arts at the Thunder Bay Art Gallery in Thunder Bay.

Serpent River First Nation installation artist Bonnie Devine shared her perspective on Indigenous arts at the May 14 Gathering of Indigenous Arts at the Thunder Bay Art Gallery in Thunder Bay.

By Rick Garrick

THUNDER BAY – Serpent River installation artist Bonnie Devine is looking to add music to her art through a collaboration with Walpole Island musician David DeLeary.

“I’ve worked with him a couple of times on a couple of video projects,” Devine says. “Now we’re trying to think of not just musical accompaniment to a video, but actually to tie the sound in some way into an artwork.”

An award-winning installation artist and associate professor at the Ontario College of Art and Design in Toronto, Devine is currently looking at the European arrival to Turtle Island from the Indigenous perspective.

“We always hear that story from the perspective of the Europeans who arrived,” Devine says. “It’s their great story. For us, there is a different story there. It’s not all just oppression and darkness; there was something that happened there when those two worlds met. And we’re still living this out — we just haven’t talked about it yet.”

Devine is interested in exploring the collision of cultures through her art.

“It’s kind of an identity quest for me to figure out what happened,” Devine says. “For me it was almost biological — what happens when a new thing is born. What is that one thing that we have now, because there is a unity and if we can find it, I think we can bring about some healing.”

Devine was one of about eight First Nation artists from across Ontario who spoke at the May 14 Gathering for Indigenous Arts in Thunder Bay. The artists shared their visions of the Indigenous arts scene and their dreams and challenges for the future. The gathering was held at Thunder Bay Art Gallery through a partnership between the Ontario Federation of Indian Friendship Centres and the Thunder Bay Art Gallery.

Nipissing artist Dan Commanda shared his art experiences during the gathering, including his work in creating traditional regalia for pow-wow dancers.

“I do a lot of workshops making dancing regalia,” Commanda says. “I make six different categories, that’s including the beadwork, the leatherwork, the feather-work, the bustles and the fans.”

Commanda travelled down to Navajo territory to learn how to make fans from one of the foremost fan makers in the United States.

“I sat down with him for two weeks,” Commanda says. “It was through funding from the Canada Council for the Arts.”

Commanda has been involved with traditional pow-wows for many years. He helped establish the Nipissing pow-wow grounds about 27 years ago.

“It took me seven years to cut down all the trees and to make the road with a chainsaw and an axe,” Commanda says. “I was given tobacco to do that. Sometimes you wonder how long that tobacco works. This was a seven-year tobacco offering.”

A number of stakeholders and partners in tourism, galleries and funding also shared potential opportunities and new possibilities for artists during the gathering.

“The Gathering (provided) us with a valuable opportunity to hear and share with artists in our region to find new ways of working together,” says Nadia Kurd, curator of the Thunder Bay Art Gallery.