The Artistic Way

Just a few evenings ago, I had the opportunity to join a friend of mine at an exhibition of short films by the wonderful artist Shelley Niro. For those of you who don’t know Shelley’s work – here is a ridiculously long link to some images of it. 
A Google search would be much faster but I like including the links.  At any rate, explore.  See.  Love. 
I have a bit of an obsession with art.  I will always be grateful that I have the coolest father around, because he helped to make sure that art, imagination and creativity was a part of mine and my siblings’ lives and because it’s led to an enduring appreciation for artists and their creations.  There are many artists I want to share about here at The Whirlwind, but I’ll start with Shelley – since I just watched some of her films and because she has just become the first laureate of the Ontario Art Council’s Indigenous Arts Award and I think that’s pretty cool.   (Side Note – okay, it is actually called the “Aboriginal” Arts Award but “Aboriginal” isn’t a word I use, so I will forever be changing it on this blog.  J)
It has actually been a long time since I sat down and really interacted with a film, having developed a tendency in recent years to view primarily loud, action packed and easy to put away afterwards types of movies.  There aren’t many that have pulled me out of that pattern, but Honey Moccasin was definitely one of them.     
While it isn’t one of her newer films, it was my first time viewing it and I struggled at times to determine what I was taking from it, what it was teaching me and how I felt about it.  To some degree, I am still working through those questions, and that for me is the brilliance of the piece.  It ignited a conversation that has been unfolding, on and off, for nearly a week now. 
As a film, it hits a lot of notes - literally.  It is both dramatic and comedic.  It is part mystery and part musical.  It explores identity and it also pokes fun at our assumptions about it.   Its ability to do all these things and do them well deserves a blog entry of its own. 
I laughed several times during the showing, and greatly enjoyed the comedic cadence, the diversity of the characters and the community that their interactions and relationships formed.  My sister was sharing with me recently about a movie she saw where the character dynamics seemed to really fall flat (ahem…Snow White and Huntsman).  I knew exactly what she meant – because even though the scenery and cinematography were enchanting, I found I really couldn’t have cared less about what was motivating the Evil Queen, Snow White or the Huntsman. And though I may change my mind after more reflection – I think that cuts to the heart of why I liked this film so much. 
These characters were invested in and driven by one another.  Even the news clips, were focussed on reporting  the activities, events and concerns of the community. The effect was charming and the approach one I could absolutely identify with.  I liked seeing and recognizing as much as I did of our people and our community dynamic on the screen. But here’s my favourite part. I loved seeing the community prevail and both accept and participate in the redemption of Zachary John.   I loved being able to see in a film as I feel in my every day life – that when we work together, we can succeed in anything - recover from anything.   And of course, it doesn’t happen all at once or easily.  But it does happen.  And when it does – it’s magic. 
There are of course, many types of communities and seeing Shelley’s film reminded me of another experience.  Once upon a time in university, I was fortunate enough to assist in curating a small exhibit at McMaster University, entitled “Beyond the Woodland School”.  (Shelley was one of the artists featured in the exhibit – hence the memory).  While there are certainly a host of extra curricular opportunities competing for your attention when you are pursuing your studies – I have to say, hands down, that this was my favourite. From this experience, I gained a whole new appreciation for the curatorial process and the curator’s duties (most of which, I wasn’t responsible for), but all of which were exciting to me. 
For those of you who are in Indigenous Studies programmes at various campuses across Turtle Island – I highly recommend you pitch this as a concept or project to your First Nations’ student organizations.  They are a lot of fun and a great way to create and promote dialogue in and around the campus community. Plus art is just plain cool – no matter how you slice it.  Hope everyone is having a wonderful day.
Oh, and here’s the link to the press release for the OAC award: