Michipicoten’s Rolande Souliere is working on the installation of three wall paintings incorporating her use of syllabics and optical effects at the IAIA Museum of Contemporary Native Arts in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

By Rick Garrick

NEW MEXICO – Michipicoten artist Rolande Souliere kicked off the New Year with the installation of three large-scale wall paintings at the IAIA Museum of Contemporary Native Arts (MoCNA) in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

“My practice is primarily installation and for these wall works I will continue working on the subject matter of language,” Souliere says in an e-mail comment during a break from her installation process. “Continuing with the use of syllabics and my use of optical effects, I decided to use the spaces for an exploration into Indigenous written language, form, colour, space and abstraction.”

Souliere previously created a 20-metre floor sculpture based on Cree, Anishinabe and Inuit syllabics, called Modern Day Syllabics, which was exhibited at Gallery 101 in Ottawa from Sept. 30-Oct. 28 and is scheduled for exhibition at the Art Gallery of Mississauga in February.

For the MoCNA exhibition, Souliere is creating one wall painting that is about 38 feet long and two others that are about 15 feet long.

“The shapes of the syllabics, based on Roman orthography, have parallels with geometric abstraction,” Souliere says. “In a sense, the wall works may appear to be abstract works but in fact they are syllabics, visible to Indigenous people who know them. The layout of the wall works display how the symbols of the syllabics rotate in the four directions.”

Souliere is enjoying the opportunity to share her artwork with people in the American Southwest region.

“I enjoy working in Sante Fe very much,” Souliere says. “The architecture is great and the people at MoCNA and are super friendly.”

Souliere’s wall paintings are scheduled to be exhibited for just over a year at MoCNA, from Jan. 9 to Jan. 27, 2019.

“We selected Rolande because we were really intrigued by her style,” says Manuela Wall-Off-Man, chief curator at MoCNA. “It’s a really interesting combination of hard-edged painting style with kind of traffic sign aesthetics, those signal colours like white, orange, yellow and black.”

Wall-Off-Man says Souliere’s artwork is “very different” from previous wall painting exhibitions at MoCNA.

“We always try to present something new to our audience members,” Wall-Off-Man says. “We also like how she includes Native or First Nation language in her works, so in this case she is creating a wall painting using Ojibwe, Cree and Inuit syllabics. That is really important, especially combined with the signal colours she uses. It really emphasizes the importance of Native languages and how in many communities those languages are not spoken anymore or there are fewer fluent speakers.”

Wall-Off-Man says Souliere’s artwork is unique due to her life in Australia. Souliere earned her masters in visual arts from the Sydney College of the Arts, University of Sydney in 2006 and is currently working on her doctorate.

“She told me that she worked with the Aboriginal community in Australia — in many ways it inspires her work,” Wall-Off-Man says. “I don’t think artists work in an isolated way. They are always inspired by their environment. It might not be visible, but I think that sometimes it is the processes, the way they are planning a project. Maybe it is more in an indirect way, but I think it does play a role.”