By Kelly Anne Smith
NIPISSING FIRST NATION – 150 artists from across Canada have been awarded a REVEAL Indigenous Artist Award from The Hnatyshyn Foundation.
Co-Artistic Director of Aanmitaagzi, Sid Bobb is one of the recipients of the award that comes with a cash prize of $10,000.
“This award will lead towards the building of our capacity.” Bobb says he wants to help more people experience cultural art-making workshops.
The company is busy with the Material Witness Project. It includes the award winning play Material Witness and Pulling Threads – a community engaged textile installation workshop that has been presented in Ottawa and northern communities including the Ojibways of the Pic River First Nation.
Pulling Threads is strong on its own. “When we were down in New York, we went to Shinnecock, about an hour and half away from New York City. For those that are not able to come, we want to make sure it is self-contained and a complete meaningful engagement for whoever comes. If they come to the play, there is another level of interconnection.”
At the time of the interview, Co-Artistic Director Penny Couchie was in Manitowaning at the De-Ba-Jeh-Mu-Jig Theatre. Bobb explains Couchie’s tour with Pulling Threads. “These are engagement opportunities for people to be part of the installation, creation and dialogue; and to also build relationships for future presentations of the play (Material Witness).
Bobb is arranging to have a showing of the play as close to communities as possible. “For the Sudbury communities, and maybe Manitowaning, it would be a good place for it to be here (Big Medicine Studio). Perhaps in Thunder Bay for the northwestern communities would work. We will tour around the surrounding communities and then have a showing in a central venue.”
People from their own communities will contribute toward the installation. “The quilted tapestry panels that they create — the workshoppers can keep them. We can help them develop a community quilt for themselves or they will become part of the larger installation.”
“We have a whole bunch of fabrics on clothes lines that they can choose from. The first one they pick is a cloth that represents themselves. And then they will pick one that represents something they love. The third cloth is a story of violence. It is your own story or a story you heard or a story you imagine. And then a fabric that represents a legacy or a window of hope is chosen. What would you like to leave behind? All of those create a layered, quilted piece. And then we go around for those that are wanting and willing to share their stories behind either a piece of their fabric or the whole entire thing. And then those stories are offered.
“When we have our installations, one of the things we do in the show is at the very tail end. The performers break the fourth wall and come out and they pass off a piece of fabric to somebody. Some of those statements or bits of the story are put onto a piece of fabric that the performers carry. And then they offer up those to the audience after the show.”
Bobb wants to provide a space for important cultural knowledge to continue to be passed on in community art-making. “Most of it falls upon me and Penny’s individual shoulders. But this bit of funding will help offset that. Everything that we develop here is individual artist owned and operated. And it is separate from the not-for-profit sector. So in our long term sustainability, we have more control on how it is used.”
The directors of the Big Medicine Studio have been gracious with their space. “When the space is free and we can afford it, people can come here and do ceremony. We have that kind of capacity and freedom to do that.”