Nipissing artist Aylan Couchie is among 107 graduates from across Ontario who have been nominated for this year's Premier’s Award.

Nipissing First Nation artist Aylan Couchie is among 107 graduates from across Ontario who have been nominated for this year’s Premier’s Award.

By Rick Garrick

TORONTO—Aylan Couchie of Nipissing First Nation credits an “epic year” for her nomination for the Premier’s Awards.

The annual awards were launched in 1992 and are administered by Colleges Ontario.

“One of my sculptures, titled Sweat Lodge, was chosen from over 950 sculptures submitted world-wide to the International Sculpture Center for an award,” says the Georgian College Fine Arts graduate. “It was shown a couple of times in New Jersey and was featured in Sculpture Magazine.”

Couchie created Sweat Lodge in 2013 and received the International Sculpture Center’s Outstanding Student Achievement in Contemporary Sculpture Award in 2015 for the sculpture. The interactive installation explores the contrast between Western-based healing and Indigenous methods of healing. Sweat Lodge is currently on exhibition in Chicago until March 31, 2017.

“And then I wound up winning a publicly chosen commission for Pratt Homes,” Couchie says. “It was for a large-scale sculpture which sits on top of a new building they are putting in that overlooks Highway 400 in Barrie.”

Couchie says the H.I.O Big Chiefs sculpture pays homage to the three Indigenous peoples who once lived in the area prior to contact, the Huron-Wendat, the Iroquois, and the Anishinabek.

“It was also kind of a nod to the canoe,” Couchie says, noting there was a nine-mile portage in the area. “There are the formal aspects of a canoe frame that it is built on.”

Couchie says her creation process includes a research component to ensure her work is based on a strong conceptual base.

“I’m really interested always in the history of places, I’m interested in the history of objects,” Couchie says. “I’m interested in kind of bringing out these hidden histories or hidden realities of First Nations. Since last year, my work has actually kind of gotten a little bit bolder in challenging colonialism.”

Couchie credits her grandfather for inspiring her interest in art.

“He was constantly making things, woodworking or whatever,” Couchie says. “So I kind of wandered around following him and seeing what he was doing.”

Couchie was nominated for the Recent Graduate category of the Premier’s Awards, which also includes Business, Community Services, Creative Arts and Design, Health Sciences and Technology categories. The 2016 awards gala is scheduled for November 21, 2016, at the Sheraton Centre Toronto Hotel.

“I was pretty impressed,” Couchie says about being one of 107 graduates who were nominated for the Premier’s Awards this year. “Because it was the Recent Graduate award, I was kind of surprised that they would choose an artist.”

Couchie is currently working on her Interdisciplinary Master’s in Art, Media and Design at Ontario College of Art and Design University in Toronto.

“I’ve just started my Master’s program,” Couchie says. “I kind of feel like I might go on to get my Ph.D. Originally I had thought I would just go be an artist and make work, but I’ve now recognized that we need to have more Indigenous people in positions to support First Nation students that are coming into these programs.”

Recent Premier’s Award recipients include former Fort William Chief Georjann Morriseau, a Confederation College Aboriginal Law and Advocacy graduate who was recognized in 2014.