Traditional Art with a Contemporary Twist

Today’s Indigenous youth have a strong and important voice that needs to be heard, and one Newfoundland artist is helping to preserve his culture and inform others about it through his work.

Jordan Bennett is a multi-disciplinary visual artist of Mi’kmaq and French ancestry whose work is comprised of popular and traditional cultural reflections. Through his work he aims to create an atmosphere where traditional meets contemporary.

Many indigenous artisans are known for working with traditional materials, techniques and patterns, but artists like Bennett are pushing the boundaries of what defines “traditional” and bringing their work into mainstream, contemporary art.

“We have access to resources and mediums that carry our voices over distances that were once thought to be impossible. We are learning, obtaining and preserving our cultures through what we know best: technology,” he said, adding that mediums such as video, photography and installations are helping that voice be heard.


Jordan Bennett. Photo by Candace Cunning

Bennett, who recently received the Artist of the Year award from the Newfoundland and Labrador Arts Council, will be teaming up this summer with Mi’kmaq Youth of PEI to conduct wheat pasting postering workshops with two Island reserves where they will create images to graffiti on various surfaces. The installation will be accompanied by an audio work created and recorded with the youth. The piece will be installed at Art in the Open on August 23 as a sculptural and audio installation.

Bennett also plans to do a wheat pasting and audio piece that will communicate and relate to the workshops.

“The idea for the installation stems from thinking about the displacement of indigenous cultures due to early contact,” he explained. “The work will address the immediate and future impact that the first moments of the 1864 Charlottetown Conference, the arrival of the delegates and the arrival of the first circus of more than two decades which also happened to be in town would have had on the Mi’kmaq people.”

Bennett’s piece is being curated by guest curators Dr. Heather Igloliorte, a professor at Concordia University and NSCAD professor, Dr. Carla Taunton.

The artist’s work draws people in because it is both familiar and unusual, Igloliorte said.

“I think Jordan Bennett is one of the most exciting young artists in Canada today, period.”

His work often combines elements of youth culture – hip hop, skateboarding and graffiti – with Indigenous knowledge, language and cultural practices, she said.

“It’s also what makes him perfect to conduct workshops for local Native youth like he’ll be doing in the week leading up to Art in the Open. Youth can relate to his work on so many levels,” she said. “What’s interesting to me is the dual implications of the practice, as it is used by both activist movements and graffiti subculture.”

Bennett said he looks forward to the summer art festival and said such festivals not only gives the artists a space to experiment and play with ideas, they allow for communication and dialogue between artists and the community, strengthening the connectedness and importance of art in community.

“I am very excited to be a part of this festival! It will be my first time in PEI and I am so excited to play with the space and create new work.”

Presently, the visual artist is working on a commission through imagineNATIVE and The National Film Board of Canada to undertake a large scale installation and short film to be premiered at this year’s imagineNATIVE film and media arts festival. He’s busy but he loves what he does.

I create because what I am doing makes me happy, I wake up each day and am excited to be doing what I do. I create in hopes that I may inspire others to create.”

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Crack Alley: Part Deux

A little while back I wrote a rant about my neighbourhood, a place I now so endearingly refer to as Crack Alley. (See first Crack Alley rant here: ) It sort of reminds me of the sketchy streets that litter Montreal, only the brand of sketch is different. It’s softer, safer. I may have to rethink my endearing nickname. Suggestions?

For the time being, though, it shall be referred to as Crack Alley. There’s so much foot traffic that passes through my neighbour’s door, the house next to me that I call the Palace. I’m sure at one time or another it was a beautiful home filled with love and hope. Not anymore, sadly. Love and hope have been replaced with dealers and junkies. I think the reason I am so hard on this part of society is because it’s easier to turn my nose up in ignorance than it is to see it for what it really is – unforgiving sadness.

But, since I don’t feel like crying or blowing up into a balloon of shame for having been so lucky to have been brought up in a more suitable environment, I will keep this light. Earlier this evening, I was sitting on the front stoop watching people wander by with confused, ugly, vacant stares. Some of them were young and might still have a chance to change their paths. I wish them well, but the reality is that things being the way they are, the cycle will likely continue. Others were old and their eyes showed they’ve lived this live for far too long. I am always pleasant and smile and say hello. Some respond, but most just pass by without even realizing I’m there.

The sun was starting to set and I was lost in the beauty of the sky. The tranquility was soon interrupted when I looked to my right and saw a heavier-set kid walking towards me. He looked to be about 17. “Hey bud,” a voice behind me shouts. I turned and saw a guy with a baseball hat who looked like he probably lived around here. As Chubby slugged along he started to yell something, but he was slurring so it was hard to make him out and there seemed to be a pool of drool gathering in the corner of his mouth. “How’ve ya been?” the capped-guy asks, now standing in front of Chubs. “Drugs!! Do you have any DRUGS!?!” Chubby screamed as he stumbled to the right. “No man, sorry,” said the kid with the hat. Their interaction ended and the kid with the hat, naturally, went up to the door of the Palace.

One nice gentleman passed while I was on the stoop. Not an air of sketchiness about him. “How are ya?” he asks jovially, with a bounce in his step. “Oh, not too bad, thanks, and yerself?” I reply. We spoke briefly about the weather, commenting on how beautiful an evening it was, and off he went about his merry way. Some time passed, when suddenly I heard singing. Sure enough, the jovial gentleman was returning from whence he came. “How ya doin’ now?” he inquired in a sing-song way. “Not too bad,” I replied laughing.

Well, I suppose I should go back outside and check out what’s going on. I wouldn’t want to miss some of the inevitable hilarity that’s bound to ensue.

Until next time…