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At one time, survival as Indigenous People in Canada meant assimilating in the face of colonisation — hiding tribal symbols, traditions and languages. This survival is one of the themes of "Worn Inward," a new exhibit empowering young Indigenous artists at the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia.
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Killa Atencio, Jordan Bennett, Aiden Gillis, Gesig Isaac, and Flora May

Untitled (Collaboration), 2019
Mixed Media on denim

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Killa Atencio

Flesh and Bone, 2019
Leather, bone, seed-beads, abalone shell, metal
Suite of 5 pieces
Courtesy of the artist.

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Brandy Bernard

Untitled, 2019
Silk painting, gold metallic ink
Courtesy of the artist.

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Darcie Bernhardt

Untitled, 2019
Oil on canvas
Courtesy of the artist.

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Brandon Hoax

Untitled, 2019
Ribbon, Stainless Steel
Courtesy of the artist.

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Gesig Isaac

Bronze Basket Ring, 2019
Bronze, sterling silver
Courtesy of the artist.

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Flora May

Sprouting Grass Moon, 2019
Embroidery on cotton
Courtesy of the artist.

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Natasha Root

Untitled, 2019
Acrylic on canvas
Courtesy of the artist.

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Arielle Twist

Astam, 2019
Digital photo on satin-print paper
Courtesy of the artist.

For Indigenous people, survival, “Meant walking through the world with languages and cultural ties tucked under sleeves — worn inward,” says Art Gallery of Nova Scotia’s Indigenous Arts Programmer Aiden Gillis, who is of Mi’kmaw and French ancestry.

“Worn Inward” showcases eight young Indigenous artists alongside Ktaqmkuk-based Newfoundland Mi’kmaq artist Jordan Bennett, who has participated in over 75 solo and group exhibitions nationally and internationally. The Worn Inward exhibition will be on show from June 8th to October 13, 2019 at the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia and will then travel to the Gallery’s Yarmouth branch, before moving to Newfoundland in spring of 2020.

The exhibition is a response to a recent show by Bennett titled “Ketu’ elmita’jik,” meaning, “They want to go home,” in Mi’kmaq. According to Gillis, the purpose of this new exhibition was to push back against museums and archives who historically took — and still own — Indigenous material culture and bodies without the consent of the Nations they belong to.

Mentorship is Key for Young Indigenous Artists

These artists are creating works that empower our people, while standing in the spotlight unapologetically showing the world who we are.

Aiden Gillis

Bennett says mentorship is particularly important for young Indigenous artists. “They have so many important things to say and share with us all. They’re utilizing their growing artistic skill-sets and inspirations to create new ways to tell our stories to future generations.”

“RBC looks to support artists who are creating the innovative conversations that shape how we see ourselves and engage our communities,” says Corrie Jackson, RBC Senior Art Curator. “That’s why RBC supports exhibitions like Worn Inward, which provide an important platform to advance artists’ careers, and create a space for their work to have meaningful impact. This is also why we’re proud to have Bennett’s work in the RBC collection, and see his leadership reaching the next generation of emerging artists.”

The emerging artists include jewellery maker Killa Atencio of the Listuguj First Nation, Inuvialuit visual artist Darcie Bernhardt, Mi’kmaq multidisciplinary artist Gesig Isaac, and Nehiyaw poet and multi-disciplinary artist Arielle Twist.

Chosen from applicants across Canada, the young artists program included one-on-one mentorship from Bennett, group discussions, workshops, and exploration of Indigenous self-representation through adornment and wearable design. The Art Gallery of Nova Scotia also brought in arts industry experts to teach skills like art preservation and framing techniques.

Experiencing the Indigenous Renaissance

I think that the future for Indigenous art on Turtle Island is bright, full of diversity, and unique stories.

Jordan Bennett

Both Bennett and Gillis see a bright future for Indigenous artists and believe that Canada is currently in the midst of an Indigenous renaissance. “We see Indigenous artists, writers, and dancers on the rise,” says Bennett.

Gillis believes wearable art is critical to showcase, not just because it’s an important traditional form of Indigenous art, but also because it can disrupt stereotypes about contemporary Indigenous identities.

“More often than not, we’re depicted as homogenous and primitive people of the past,” Gillis says. “We aren’t allocated the same respect as other cultures in our right to be innovative people who advance as technology does.”

“Art is currently acting as an effective avenue to create change and awareness within our own communities, and to express our ideas and perspectives to a global audience,” says Bennett.

Find out about how RBC supports Emerging Artists.

Banner image: Installation view of Worn Inward – A Response Exhibition. Courtesy of the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia. Photo: Steve Farmer.